February 27, 2020 4:57 PM

Standing before the images created by Ryan McGinley, one becomes entranced by the irresistible visions of freedom and joyous irreverence. As we gaze upon these captured glimpses of nubile and ecstatic lives, the pace and perception of our own reality becomes, perhaps equally momentarily, transformed. It is as though we are inhabiting a dream, reliving a memory or visually absorbing a wish. There is ample room for us to imbue the imagery with our own imagina- tion and narrative, and our mind wanderings encourage us to indulge in the ebullience of youth, whether that is the youth we have lived, recognize or are yet to comprehend. But regardless of our own position in time, the experience of witnessing a life in the present is persuasively clear.

McGinley ‘subjects’ are sought out and discovered all over the world. He literally has a casting director who looks for individ- uals who engender a quality of beauty or attraction which lies beyond established confines. A hypnotic beauty, which com- municates to him in such a way that he (and his camera) fall in love with the image presence before him. Although generally of a creative disposition, McGinley’s subjects reveal or present something to him but not necessarily in the way that a ‘model’ would comply or perform before the camera. He is preoccu- pied with documenting the natural, and unexpected, qualities of an individual, their presence, character and what they may or may not reveal under unusual, and often bizarre, circum- stances. He speaks at length about this in his new book “Whis- tle for the Wind”, in the conversation with Gus Van Sant. The models he prefers to work with are free of the inbuilt skills necessary to perceive how they appear, both in front of and behind the lens, generating a more candid or sincere response, for they engaged in being themselves rather than projecting a temporal character as part of their career; they are innocent of the considerations of how the shift of a limb or an open- mouthed pout will create a particular shape or form.

In a sense, McGinley is brilliantly adept at documenting opti- mal experience, captured as flow: the point when one is entire- ly motivated, within the moment, seamlessly connected and yet unconscious of the self. When the dimensions of psycho- logical challenge converge with physical daring. McGinley de- fines a moment when his subjects reach a ‘state of exhaustive bliss,’ and as inhibitions disintegrate, we witness a liberated pleasure where emotional guards begin to tumble and fall.

McGinley’s work appears to thrive in this specific instant of dissolution, and his work and process could be said to inhabit a liminal space. To put it simply, the enchantment of his work lies in the fusion and merging of opposites. His work seems to become a modifier between that which is known and that which is unknown, and he walks and captures a tenuous line between polarities. Control and surrender co-exist. Freedom and direction thoroughly entwine. Subjects collide and reveal alienation and involvement. Lightness and weight convey a sense of the mythical but remain anchored in the everyday. These recurrent and simultaneous convergences between contradictory opposites depict a seductively tacit dream world.

Covert or otherwise, we freely gravitate toward seduction and our visual pleasure button is always ready to be pressed. But, more often than not, the eye’s desire is stimulated yet we stand, zentirely to be taken into a visual world. McGinley’s work speaks in persuasive tones with a straightforward naked- ness that we can touch and access because the bodies that we see are sincerely stated. They are bruised, sweaty, scratched, hairy, trembling and blemished. The uneven charms of unadulter- ated markings become the aesthetic pleasure as fantasy and reality mingle and merge.

Mcginley locates the singular image, which signifies the perfect movemen.

When McGinley photographed Kate Moss she became one of the rare exceptions to this modus. In 2007, he was presented with the opportunity to photograph “somebody” for W Maga- zine, and the prospect of working with the superstar model was too wonderful to miss. In the book “Interviews 2” by Ger- ald Matt, McGinley speaks about how he had been attracted to Moss since he first saw her in the CK One advertisements during his teenage years. Hers was a unique and atypical beauty: androgynous and yet with a girl-next-door quality. He was incredibly drawn by her rare beauty; it inspired him, and subsequently many of the girls he has worked with embody or characterize some of these original qualities. Naturally she was at the top of his list of “somebody’s” that he would like to work with. He goes on to speak of her working harder than any other model he has collaborated with and describes how she was comprehensively in model mode, with every move being made “visible,” with every position and angle being un- derstood. But he also had to work equally hard in encouraging her to let go of her accomplished skills because his focus and intent was to photograph Kate Moss as herself.

Convert or otherwise, we freely gravitate toward seduction and our visual pleasure button is always ready to be pressed. 

[McGinley’s subjects] are bruised, sweaty, scratched, hairy, trembling and blemished. The uneven charms of unadulterated markings become the aesthetic pleasure as fantasy and reality mingle and merge.

McGinley’s editorial-based work began in 2004 with the stories and settings he created for the New York Times, and evolved further his concept of contingency and the provocation of chance. Models, musicians and actresses tend to be very accomplished at communicat- ing themselves visually. They are adept at being in front of the camera’s lens and before the photographer’s eye, and this knowledge is generally a positive attribute to work with. However, when the motive behind the cre- ativity is connected to revealing the spontaneous, un- fettered elements of a character, a process needs to be developed which abates defences and encourages guards to be brought down. Sienna Miller was photographed with a flock of budgerigars, M.I.A was photographed on a high rooftop swing somewhere in NYC, Lady GaGa en- gulfed by nature. Introducing the component of surprise disorientates and opens the perspective, inasmuch as it becomes difficult to focus on how to appear before the lens. This ability to draw out the unforeseen in the ‘seen’ is gaining McGinley a substantial following through his editorial work.

But generally, the aspect of working with a model’s con- summate professionalism seems less conducive to the happenings that McGinley generates and captures, which thrive where the moment edges into the weird and won- derful and where an unconscious period of time renders an instant in time specific. McGinley is more involved with documenting the natural, and unexpected, qualities of an individual, their presence, character and what they may, or may not, reveal under unusual and often bizarre circumstances. His approach appears to involve a strong element of exaggeration, combined with the fact he takes thousands of photographs, thus generating an overspill in both output and possibility. Finally, through the abun- dance of material available comes the ruthless and rigor- ous act of editing down, defining, until McGinley locates the singular image, which signifies the perfect moment.

This tiny pocket of time appears as a fragment of a larger narrative, rendering it impossible for the viewer to re- main tethered to one exacting still. Scope is ample and plentiful to embellish and develop a scenario that moves beyond the confines of the frame. It is difficult, therefore, not to become caught up in the belief that these images are documents of ‘real’ lives rather than depictions of a fashioned fantasy. This may be, in part, due to McGin- ley’s early works being fly-on-the-wall documentaries of the lives he and his friends were living in New York City. Or it could simply be due to the fact that we are met with the pervading visions of young men and women as recog- nizable, animate beings.

Diana Vreeland made the comment “without emotion there is no beauty”. This recognition that beauty is more than a surface of idealized perfection is what McGinley has utterly tapped into. As he captures an unconscious period of time and renders an instant in time specific, the moment edges into the weird and wonderful and he pro- nounces beauty, embodied, as a vital and vibrant energy.∞




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