Artists: Ryan McGinley
"Life is just more exciting with a camera in my hand. Taking pictures feels right, more right than anything else in life. I have to respect and honor the insanity of it all. Photography is where we live. I'm going if you're going. This is the road trip. This is how we do it. Join the circus and run away from home. The journey is the destination."
Ryan McGinley, Purple Fashion #19, 2013
Kunsthal KAdE is bringing a major retrospective of American photographer Ryan McGinley (b. 1977, New Jersey, USA) in the summer of 2015. On view is a selection of work from all of the photographer's series and periods; from the early raw snapshot photography of his personal life in Manhattan's street culture in the late 1990s, to the aestheticized road movie photography of naked youths in the unruly nature of the United States.
Over the past 15 years, Ryan McGinley's photographic work has become the galvanizing image of a generation we have come to retrospectively call "hipsters" or "Indie. Ryan McGinley came of age in the late 1990s in the (then) rowdy culture of skateboarders and graffiti artists in the Lower East Side area of Downtown Manhattan in New York. As a graphic design student, he got his hands on a camera in 1997, with which he began obsessively photographing everything that was loose and stuck. He "photoblogged," before photoblogging was hip and the Internet existed as a platform. Instead, he made zines, which he distributed to friends. Initially, his immediate environment was his subject: the friends he partied with late into the night, the art scene he moved in, the street culture he was a part of, the music world he dwelled in. Straight and unpolished, he zoomed in on everything that came before his lens: the sex, the drugs, the weird shenanigans, the illegal activities, the nightlife. In living rooms, in bathrooms, in train tunnels, on rooftops, in cafes, on the streets.
"Nude" was already a regular part of the photographs Ryan McGinley shot, but it became the main subject of his photography in the early 2000s. A key moment was a 2003 trip to the state of Vermont, where he and a group of friends spent a summer taking photographs near a summer home of a collector friend. The nudity of the models, the "idyllic" landscape and the free, loose and exuberant atmosphere surrounding the snapshot-like photographs would become McGinley's "handwriting. The casual nature and playfulness of the poses suggest total spontaneity. And in part it does, but there is also an idea or direction behind it. McGinley compares it to skateboarding: to make a trick look fluid and totally under control, you need endless practice. At the time, Ryan McGinley shot dozens, hundreds of photos. Until he figured out what worked and how to capture a situation most poignantly. After which, chance, the unexpected and the improvisation of the moment provided "the crucial moment. It is analogous to Henri Cartier-Bresson's 'decisive moment', but from a slow build-up full of endless repetition. Staged and spontaneous.
The trip to Vermont tasted like more, and between 2005 and 2010 that culminated in five "summer road trips" throughout the United States - a group of hipsters in two vans - that produced the core of the body of work. Initially still with immediate friends, later also with models he scouted through studio sessions in his studio, preferring 'normal' boys and girls, not typical photo models. For the "Moonmilk" series, McGinley worked for a period in a cave in Idaho, experimenting with colored artificial light in the cavernous spaces. In another series, he photographed fans at Morrissey concerts. A series of portraits featuring wild animals followed around 2010. In the installation "YEARBOOK" - also on view at Kunsthal KAdE - McGinley displays hundreds of his studio portraits as a wall-sized installation.
Ryan McGinley's world is a pseudo-reality. Happy, free, careless, naughty, loose spirited, bohemian, a modern day paradise. Here and there with sharp edges, like a dented eye or scraped skin, but never dreary or depressed. More Johan van der Keuken's "We are 17" and Ed van der Elsken's "Love Story in St Germain-des-Prés," than Nan Goldin's unflinching look into the Lower East Side underground in the 1980s or Larry Clark's relentless look into a self-destructive group of young people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the 1970s.
For McGinley, the backdrop of the varied American landscape is not just a "backdrop," but also an ode to the captivating and beautiful nature that is the United States. The White Sands desert area in New Mexico is one of his favorite places, to which he keeps returning and which was also not missing from any road trip.
What is striking in the photographic work is that the models are often in motion. They are running, falling, dancing, tumbling, floundering, swimming, climbing. The action gives the photographs a cinematic character. Introducing "actions" not only gives spontaneity in a photograph, but also gives more chance for the coincidental, the unexpected, giving the photographs a dynamism that is not possible with a staged, fixed pose.
For the overview at Kunsthal KAdE, approximately 80 loans have been assembled from private collections in the Netherlands, England, France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Austria and Ireland. The work 'YEARBOOK' is performed on one wall in the main hall. In the video room, the music video 'Varúð' by Sigur Ros, directed by Ryan McGinley, will be shown. A selection of 'behind the scene' photographs will be displayed in the education cabinet.
"There's no instruction manual on how to do this, no recipe. It's a puzzle. We've had to figure all this shit out along the way, inventing as we go along."
Ryan McGinley, Purple Fashion #19, 2013