Ryan McGinley

[PHOTOGRAPHER]

“THE PHOTOGRAPHS I CHOOSE AND GROUP TOGETHER AREN’T REALLY REALITY—IT’S NOT REAL LIFE. SOMEONE ONCE SAID TO ME THAT IT’S ALWAYS WARM IN RYAN MCGINLEY PHOTOGRAPHS. YOU NEVER FEEL COLD. YOU ALWAYS FEEL LIKE YOU ARE IN THE SUN. AND I LOVE THAT.”
Some subjects of Ryan McGinley photographs:
A girl in the back of a truck drinking
A bunch of people naked in a tree
Morrissey fans

I first met Ryan McGinley at the restaurant my husband and I own in Cherry Valley, New York. He and his boyfriend spent a few days up here visiting the writer and artist Jack Walls. I wanted to meet Ryan: I love his early, gritty New York photographs of dazed but joyful street kids riding bikes, sleeping in, having sex, and writing graffiti, and his more recent pastoral photographs of young people at play, naked and laughing. I also love his gorgeous photo series of fans in ecstasy at Morrissey concerts. But I didn’t know what to expect; it’s hard not to imagine the worst of someone with the kind of early success Ryan has had. He had a solo show at the Whitney at the age of twenty-four; he has had glowing reviews and features in the New York Times and the New Yorker; he had a show at MoMA P.S. 1; and this year the International Center of Photography named him Young Photographer of the Year. Ryan, as it turns out, has the grace and manners of a choirboy. He has a striking, delicate, Man-Who-Fell-to-Earth glamour. I thought we had an easy rapport—but I think a lot of people feel that way about Ryan. I think it is part of what makes him successful.

I interviewed Ryan in March 2007 at his studio on the Lower East Side.

—Dana Spiotta

*

RYAN McGINLEY: When I talk about skateboarding, it’s really tough for me because it was such a big part of my life. But when you talk about skateboarding and art—there are so many bad connotations within that…. The people that I am telling you about are the people that took the idea of skateboarding and the lifestyle and made something else out of it. But there are a lot of artists that make “skateboard art,” which is bad, like really bad.

But what I learned from skateboarding was about people. I am from a predominantly white suburban town, and if I didn’t find skateboarding, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It got me out of the town I lived in. It made me meet kids who were different ages, different races, different economic backgrounds, from all over the world, and it didn’t matter—none of it mattered. All that mattered was skating together. And it brings you to all these different places all over the city—you will be up in Midtown skateboarding and you are exposed to all these businessmen and you might go to the ghetto in Brooklyn and then you go to the Village and all the eccentric people on the street, the artists, the homosexuals—so many cultures mixed together. You’re always on the street. And then, for me, skateboarding is a lot like photography because skateboarding is about making something out of nothing. You’re using the urban landscape as a playground and you’re making ideas for doing skateboard tricks—using a handrail or some yellow curb on the sidewalk—and photography is about the same thing for me. It’s about starting out with practically nothing. You have to sort of create these scenarios to shoot, these ideas to work, and you have to use the world as the backdrop for your photograph.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Dana Spiotta is the author of the novels Lightning Field and Eat the Document.

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