Ryan McGinley

By

Published November 25, 2008

Every summer since 2005, Ryan McGinley has left New York to hit the open road. He brings along a young cast of guys and girls, all willing to take off their clothes, run, jump, swim, fall, and end up entangled in one another’s limbs, while McGinley shoots away with his Leica like the great chronicler of the perverse American pastoral. This past summer was no exception. Driving out west in a Ford E350 15-passenger van—with a 12-foot trailer attached—filled with six models, McGinley and his crew braved badgering cops, flash lightning, defective fireworks, nosy neighbors, frostbite, and more than a few on-the-road imbroglios. “I’ve always been interested in photographers that have made work across the States,” the 31-year-old McGinley says. “Richard Avedon’s In the American West, Robert Frank’s The Americans, and movies like Easy Rider [1969].” McGinley’s work has always been about getting out into the world. But the resultant photographs only tell some of the story. Exclusively for Interview, he recorded the crazy, random events in a daily travel diary of his first 45 days of the trip. We even supplied him with a Canon ELPH digital point-and-shoot to fire off a few behind-the-scenes pictures between print-film takes so that we could get a sense of his outward-bound shoots. McGinley’s days are exactly as you’d think and nothing like you’ve ever witnessed. Yes, Ryan, life would be much easier if you didn’t shoot kids naked, but it definitely wouldn’t be as much fun.

June 1. New York City.Everyone showed up at my studio around 10 A.M.: Bryce from Long Island, Hanna from Vancouver, Karis from Newfoundland, Kirsten from Chicago, Jonas from Sweden, and Conlin from Oregon. I was nervous and popped a 2mg Klonopin. Everyone did a meet and greet, and we started to pack. When we got in the van, the battery died. I thought we’d have to pay a cab for a jump, but somehow the lights came back on and, miraculously, we were off. We stopped at my parents’ house in New Jersey to pick up the trailer that attaches to the hitch. My dad did 45 push-ups in front of everyone and then told his Korean War stories. He’s turning 80 this summer. Then we drove out to Cold Spring, New York. Everyone did their first nude shoot. Conlin led the group getting naked and swung from the rope into the lake. The water was freezing and everyone was shivering, so we hiked up a hill and shot until dusk. I had been talking to Karis prior to the trip and found out that he was gay. I try to stay clear of shooting my kind, as the sexual vibe is usually very strong. But I was happy to feel no sexual energy; I could think with my brain and not my dick. We drove to [photographer] David Armstrong’s weekend house in Bovina, New York, where we had a naked taco dinner and listened to Neil Young.

June 3. David Armstrong’s House, Bovina, N.Y. Woke up before everyone else and walked around the house for a while to think about what was on the day’s roster for shooting. One barn on the property caught my eye. It was vast on the second floor and beautifully dilapidated. I used three models and three assistants. We videotape every shoot, and I need someone to tend to the music and change the song if it’s not the right mood. But a loud cracking noise—the floor, which almost broke—was our call to stop. We went outside and walked over to a patch of purple flowers, and I had everyone lie on the ground. I turned on the smoke machine, but it didn’t look right—so I got up on the ladder and shot from above. After the models got up, they had tiny purple flowers all over their backs. It was a beautiful shot that I couldn’t have planned.

as we got farther into the cave, we asked if we could start shooting. Chris asked the guide, ‘you’re okay with the photos being nude, right?’ Hanna immediately took off her clothes. girls- first always works. then everyone else got naked.Ryan McGinley

June 5. Millville, Pa.We cleaned David’s house thoroughly before we left. I picked up all the cigarette butts on the front steps and by the dock of the pond. I got everyone together and had a talk with them about putting the cigarette butts in their pockets or, if they’re naked, giving them to me to put in my back pocket. It’s bad karma to leave them in nature. We all piled into the van and hit the road to Millville, Pennsylvania. We had found this guy Kevin through the Weird Pennsylvania book. He had a chronic neck injury and claimed he had been cured by standing in crop circles at his farm. He sells Christmas trees and makes homemade tractors. It was dusk, my favorite time to shoot. Everything was illuminated by Christmas lights. I decided to shoot in his gazebo, and we turned on the iPod and blasted the Rolling Stones. The sky was a deep blue. Bryce and Hanna got on the handmade swing set. The creaking noise made it seem like it was going to fall to pieces any second. The bug zapper was killing flies left and right, and then we did a night fireworks shoot in the water. I always wonder what our hosts think when they see the shoots happening.

June 6. Raystown Lake, Pa.We arrived at a rental house at Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania. I’ve been trying not to stress out about the budget for the trip this summer but always seem to be thinking about how much I’m spending every day. When you arrive somewhere new, you have to quickly figure out a plan of action. I walked around the property making notes. The back deck was the best place to shoot. It had a pastoral landscape, and the sun was about to set. We set up the stuntman fall mat below the deck so it would look like people were jumping into the distance. In the woods were six long benches. This house was often used for church youth groups. I guess that’s where they give their sermons. I decided to do our own naked sermon. I had Jonas carry a chair out on top of his head to the benches to lead it. He sat nude and smoked cigarettes and told us Swedish prophecies while I took pictures. Then Christian, my first assistant, yelled that the fall mat was blown up. I did a few jumps off the deck to demonstrate the proper way to fall forward, on your ass and back. Jonas tried first to do it nude and bounced down the hill. It was a slow process, and I was getting nervous that we were losing light, so I stripped down and started to do falls: forward, backward, on my ass, flipping, spinning. I was trying to get everyone else psyched, and it seemed to work. Then everyone cooked a vegetarian dinner naked while I photographed them. The -interns set up the trampoline in the front of the house, and I did some -McGinley-style Muybridge studies of people bouncing and falling awkwardly while listening to “Sussudio” by Phil Collins.

June 9. Seneca Rocks, W. Va. We drove the entire day to West Virginia, heading toward a tourist “show cave.” A show cave is a cave that has turned commercial. I watched all the Taco Bells, Wal-Marts, Waffle Houses, Cracker Barrels, IHOPs, and Subways out the window. Surprisingly, I’ve seen more Subways than McDonald’s. The GPS kept leading us in strange ways. I’ve come to realize that the GPS can be your best friend and worst enemy. As it got dark there were dozens of deer on the side of the highway. We arrived late at Red Oak, a house everyone thought was haunted. It was creaky and old and felt like a cult had once lived there. All the beds were arranged in the same way. It was all very Heaven’s Gate.

June 10. Smoke Hole Cave, W.Va.We went swimming in a river, then headed to Smoke Hole Cave. We purposely got there late to take the last tour. We didn’t have permission to shoot nudes, so we were just going to wing it. Chris went into the office to talk to the woman about making “art photographs” that will be in museums and galleries. She said in her Southern accent, “I don’t care ’bout art. We have fishing and hunting magazines that come and make photos on our land.” Chris was persistent and convinced her to give us a private tour. She got one of the kids who works there to walk us through. He gave us the regular tour about moonshiners and the Native Americans who smoked meat in the cave. As we got farther into the cave, we asked if we could start shooting. Chris asked the guide, “You’re okay with the photos being nude, right?” Hanna immediately took off her clothes. Girls-first always works. Then everyone else got naked. Jonas was walking around wearing a sailor hat and looking very Querelle. We stayed for about an hour making photos until the guide’s shift was over. As we were exiting, Chris told the guide not to tell the owner it was a nude shoot. He kept saying he wanted to see her face when she found out. We gave him a big tip. As we arrived, the woman from the office pulled up to a screeching halt beside us. Jonas said in his Swedish accent, “Hi, how are you?” She was screaming, demanding the film. She got so crazy that Christian gave up five rolls out of the 15 we shot. Chris said, “I told you this was fine-art photography.” She said, “That’s not fine art. That’s just gross.”

June 12. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.We scouted the area during the day. Once the sun was setting I started out doing trampoline studies. Since we had no property, we just set up the trampoline on the road in front of the house. Every time a car would drive by, we would throw a black sheet over whoever was naked. Then we walked up to an empty house with a backyard covered in leaves and did a fireworks shoot there. The fireworks produced an amazing amount of smoke, and we were worried someone might think the house was on fire. A car stopped, and we all hid. Since we were in the Great Smoky Mountains, our smoke could have been mistaken for fog. While driving the day before, I saw an amazing highway tunnel with a yellow glow that went through a mountain. I started getting ideas in my head as to how to pull off a nude shoot in it. We ended the night by driving down to the tunnel. It was late so there weren’t many cars on the road, but that didn’t mean there were none. Cops are especially out at night. We pulled up to the tunnel, and Bryce was ready, just wearing shorts. I asked Bryce to run back and forth through the tunnel a few times. On the second passing, two cars zoomed into the tunnel and scared the shit out of us. Life would be so much easier if I weren’t shooting nudes in tunnels.

June 13. Clayton, Ga.It’s Friday the 13th. I’ve been out of contact with most everyone I’m friends with. It doesn’t feel right to call people when you’re on the road-it’s nice just to get away from it all. We drove from Tennessee through Franklin, North Carolina, where almost exactly one year ago to the day my Volkswagen Eurovan died on the side of the highway. I thought I had died too and saw the light, but it was just the white powder from the airbag. We arrived at the Millhouse in Clayton, Georgia, and we were so happy to be at such a beautiful house. Two dogs ran up to us as we pulled in the driveway. Originally we were thinking of hitting up the closest drive-in, but all they were playing was Kung Fu Panda [2008]. We were going to offer them money to shoot nudes, but we found out it was a family drive-in and decided against it. I walked down the trail and all of a sudden hundreds of purple butterflies started flying in the air. It was so beautiful-just lavender butterflies, smaller than most, hovering over one flowered plant. I followed the pathway to a river that led to the waterfall, which seemed like the most logical place to shoot. I asked Jonas, since he’s the most fearless. He looks like a frail, Swedish homosexual. In actuality he’s the most undercover gangster ladies’ man. We call him “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” The way his body moves fascinates me. He got right under the waterfall without any direction and was almost reading my mind. The water was freezing, and he kept getting brain freezes. Then I took shots of Bryce outside the house. I refer to Bryce jokingly with my assistants as “my favorite model” or “my boyfriend.” He’s the one I photograph the most. Conlin and Hanna are amazing as well. I love all my children. Conlin’s face is probably the most interesting I’ve ever worked with. I always think he’s going to kill me, but he says that’s just the way his mouth rests.

June 15. Charleston, S.C.In the morning we embarked on a sailboat from a marina in Charleston, South Carolina. I saw dolphins and dove off the boat to swim with them. Over the course of an hour dark clouds moved in, and it turned gloomy. If there is one thing I’ve learned making pictures it’s that rainy days can be the best days to shoot, so I shot while it poured on us. We couldn’t go into the water because of lightning.

June 16. Augusta, Ga.We woke up really early and drove to Augusta, Georgia. In the car I have a butterfly mask that belongs to my friend Lily, who modeled for me on my first cross-country trip, in 2005. She brought it along the first day and put it around the seat. She said it would bring us good luck. Lily overdosed in early 2007. She was the most fearless girl I’ve ever met. I suppose this is a quality I look for in all my models. I always think that she protects us from above on our journey.

June 19. On the road to Trenton, Ga.We are going to Howard’s Waterfall Cave, where some guy died after being overcome by fumes from a leaking gas-station line. After hearing that, I’ve decided that if someone says, “Ryan, this seems dangerous,” I’ll say, “No, this seems adventurous.” The directions were wrong and we were on a country road off the beaten track. I asked for directions from a local good old boy weed-whacking his lawn. He said he knew where it was but hadn’t been there. He said the only time he would be going into the ground was when he was dead. We finally found the cave right off the side of the road, of all places. It was our first real cave. I was scared shitless crawling on my hands and knees and then having to slither on my belly to get to the bigger room. I instantly popped a Klonopin. My friend, pro skater Jerry Hsu, calls taking anxiety medicine “breaking the glass.” I texted him that “I’m about to break the glass.” Inside it was so beautiful and so scary!

The colors and the kids looked so great together. In the wee hours of the night Bryce played the acoustic guitar and sang. It nearly brought me to tears. Beautiful boys with acoustic guitars, forget about it . . .Ryan McGinley

June 20. Nashville, Tenn.Today we had to go to the airport to send off Kirsten and Karis. Since I didn’t get a chance to cast them in person, I put them on the trip for only three weeks. Both of them didn’t really work out. I was -really -happy to see Kirsten go. When she laughed, she would snort. It was killing me. Karis was a good kid but couldn’t really participate in any of the shoots. I think the only exercise he’s ever gotten is chain-smoking. After sending the two off we drove into Nashville and walked around for a bit. Chris went back to the airport to pick up the new model, Chelsea. Chelsea is covered in freckles and I’m really excited to work with her. I ate another disgusting meal at a bar-deep-fried steak. I don’t know why I torture myself like this! I felt like shit and fell asleep in the car. I woke up feeling even worse and had to take some magic pills. That seemed to help, and we arrived at a cave with a waterfall where they had filmed parts of The Jungle Book [1994]. When we pulled in there was a dog that was mangy and hobbling. It was like a bad omen. We walked down to the waterfall, and Chelsea and Jonas walked -behind the water. We illuminated them with a light we had bought recently from Wal-Mart. The light shining through the crashing water looked amazing-it had a glow that was very alien. I brought Chris and Hanna down, and we made our way into the cave. The feeling of approaching the mouth of a cave is amazing. A cold rush of air is constantly shooting out, and there’s a cloudy mist in front of the opening. Chris and -Hanna crawled into some holes in the walls before Bryce crawled through openings in the sides. In the photos, he looks like he’s crawling through layers of the earth. All I want is for my pictures to look as if they’re illustrations that could be in children’s books. As we drove home I turned on the song “Doctor’s Orders” by Carol Douglas. Listening to it has become kind of a tradition after a great shoot.

June 22. Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Tenn.My clothes got wet from a waterfall yesterday, so I put them on the dashboard of the van to dry. Black Levi’s and black Converses with black laces caked in mud, baking in the sun. Today we went to another cave in a park. Each summer I try to focus on one landscape and do a thorough photographic investigation of it. Last summer I spent most of my time shooting sand dunes. This summer I decided to explore caves. All different kinds-limestone, granite, sandstone, marble. Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama have about 10,000 caves. They’re mostly in the Cumberland Plateau. The closest one was in Cedars of Lebanon State Park and, surprisingly, it was a three-minute walk from the parking lot. The cave had a wide opening, but it was only tall enough to crawl through. As you got farther in, it got extremely muddy. It looked like a box of melted chocolates. I had Hanna and Jonas crawling around. I made it a point to tell them not to get mud on their asses. That’s been happening over the last few shoots in the caves, and it looks like you shit your pants-not cute. We took off before the park closed and set off to Memphis. Bought another pair of sunglasses. It’s become a ritual to buy a different pair at most every gas station. We arrived at the house where we are staying at around 2 A.M., a big Southern plantation house. I looked around and then went right to bed. Chris, Jonas, and Conlin walked out to the electrical tower in the distance. They hung out until sunrise. At some point, Chris pocket-dialed the owner of the house. She thought we were being attacked. She called the Memphis Police and said someone was in distress. When the boys were walking back up to the house, five -police cars pulled up into the driveway. Conlin was just wearing a towel held up by a black belt and a new pair of cowboy boots he had recently scored in Nashville. In the belt were two dangling, empty wineglasses. The police chief said, “Are you guys in a band?” Conlin immediately said yes. The officer deemed this behavior acceptable for anyone who was in a band. He told Jonas he had the complete Rolling Stones collection at home.

June 24. On a houseboat outside Mountain Home, Ark.We had to stop to pick up more fireworks. It took a day to score because we ordered such large quantities. We would buy one of each piece and go across the road and test them in the parking lot to make sure they didn’t crackle, whistle, hiss, bang, or shoot flaming balls. A lot of fireworks say they do one thing but do the exact opposite. We arrived at the houseboat late and rushed everything out of the van. We were supposed to disguise the fireworks boxes, but we didn’t have time, and I had to tip the guy who helped to load the boat $100 to keep his mouth shut. Being on the boat felt nice. The colors and the kids looked so great together. In the wee hours of the night Bryce played the acoustic guitar and sang “Thirteen” by Big Star. It nearly brought me to tears. Beautiful boys with acoustic guitars, forget about it . . .

June 25. On the houseboat. It was too sunny and perfect outside to take pictures, so I thought I’d do some flips off the top of the houseboat. I kept nailing one and a half flips and thought I’d go for a double. I didn’t make the final half of the rotation and slapped my back so hard against the water I let out a muffled scream. I popped up and played it off like it was no big thing. Chris looked down at me and said he was going to try a double backflip. He did and it was the worst double backslap I’ve ever seen in my life. He popped up and I could tell by his face something had gone wrong. Then I realized he was bleeding. He had smacked his knees into his face when he hit the water. Once the sun was low in the sky, I asked everyone to jump off the top of the houseboat into the sunset. Conlin jumped off the boat first with an umbrella. Jonas keeps surprising me with his mysterious athletic ability. He was flying off the boat like he was on Sweden’s Olympic diving team. By 10 P.M. I was so dead tired, but I had to get motivated because I didn’t fulfill my photographic feel-good quota for the day. Hanna got into the water first. It was dark and eerie with trees sticking out of the water. The water was so clear, and I thought it would be cool for her to go underwater and look up, and we could shoot the showers of sparks on the surface of the lake, as she rose up from below. By that time we all realized that Chris’s injury was very serious. He had bandaged his face up and the blood was still seeping through. His bottom lip was split in half.

June 26. Mountain Home, Ark. We dropped Chris off at the emergency room, and he gave me the keys to the van so I could drive to the post office. Every day we label each roll of film and separate all the film into two boxes to be processed. That way, if a package gets lost in the mail, at least you have something. Bruce Weber taught me that trick. In the post office I asked the mailman what was good to eat and he said that if I liked meat loaf then go down the street to Ruby’s. I drove past Ruby’s and had to turn around but didn’t know how to reverse the van with the trailer on it. Before I knew it, the trailer was on one wheel. I got out to see what had happened and realized I had really fucked up. Chris has driven 4,000 miles so far with no problems, and I got into a wreck within two miles. Chris had to walk from the urgent-care clinic to come and fix everything. I tore open the trailer, blew out the tire, dented the van, and bent the hitch. I sat on the grass like a dog with his tail between his legs until everything was over.

June 27. Eden Falls Cave, Ark.We drove to Lost Valley State Park to visit Eden Falls Cave. The hike to the cave was only three miles round-trip. Entering the cave was tight and you had to crawl super low. I knew it was a good cave because, entering it, I felt an eerie, cool breeze. I found a room with an extremely high ceiling and a waterfall. I was joking with everyone that I found a pharaoh’s bones. Hanna and Jonas huddled underneath the thin waterfall and tried to endure the freezing water. I photographed them until they couldn’t take the cold any longer. Conlin coined the term cave dick a few caves back. It’s when your dick shrinks from the cold air. As we were crawling out, Bryce was holding a pose for me and a bunch of bats flew out and circled around him. Everyone freaked out, but secretly I had been wishing for bats to appear in my photographs.

June 28. On the road to Colorado.We had a long drive ahead of us through three states to get to Colorado. We pulled over to do a quick shoot because I loved the ominous sky. Right when I got out of the van, it started to pour. Bryce hopped out and ran up a hill on the side of the highway. I was shooting with an intern holding an umbrella over my head. It was a quick and crazy shoot. We were very exposed and could have easily been spotted. Driving through Lahoma, Oklahoma, I saw fields burning. It kills me not to be able to stop and shoot all the cinematic things. If I did, we would get nowhere. Supposedly the police in Oklahoma are very strict. We were careful not to go over the speed limit.

June 30. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colo.We drove to the Great Sand Dunes and got a camping spot. I had talked to Chris about shooting on the snow in the mountains. We started to drive on this winding, bumpy, dirt road, but we didn’t have four-wheel drive and everyone was getting carsick. We resorted to plan B, parked the car, and walked out about a mile onto the dunes. The clouds were moving extremely fast over the mountains and it was drizzling. The air was warm, but the raindrops were so cold. Conlin was rolling around naked on the dunes and the raindrops were forming such beautiful textures on his sandy body. He looked like some sort of science-fiction creature. Hanna and I went up to the top of the dunes and she noticed the hair on the top of my head was standing straight up. Then I saw that hers was, too, and we saw a bolt of lightning strike. We ran down the dune in fast-forward to safer territory, and then back to the van to wait for the lightning to pass. When we got back, I was still shooting Hanna with her top off. The park ranger caught us and gave me a lecture about indecent exposure, saying that if she was going to “air out,” she shouldn’t be doing it in the park because she might traumatize a little kid.

July 1. No Name, Colo. We’ve been on the road for one month! One down, two to go. I’m really not feeling the Colorado landscape. All these pine trees, rocks, and mountains are making me sick. I’m having an “over nature” moment. We arrived in a town called No Name and started hiking up a mountain around 5:30 P.M., looking for the Cave of the Clouds, but it was nowhere in sight. Back at the hotel, Jonas and Chelsea went down to the bar, and a bunch of plumbers who had been there since happy hour thought Jonas was a chick. Once they got up close and personal, they figured out Jonas was a boy and got really homophobic. The bartender yelled at them and within minutes they came around full circle and wanted to kiss him. The funny part is that Jonas isn’t even gay. Conlin showed up in his towel getup. A white towel with a belt to hold it up, cowboy boots, and no shirt. That night I had crazy dreams. Chris said I was holding an invisible camera up in bed and giving the models directions.

July 3. Glenwood Springs, Colo.Each morning I wake up and ask myself, What’s a bitch to do? I have no clean clothes to wear today, so that means a bitch needs to do the laundry. I was determined to find the Cave of the Clouds today. It was really hot and hard to breathe because the air is so thin. It took us about two and a half hours to get to the top of the mountain, with a few breaks in between to rest. We finally made it and couldn’t find a cave in sight. I felt like I had wasted two days. On the way down, Chris saw something out of the corner of his eye and we went to explore it. Chris read in a caver’s blog entry from 2006 that a homeless man has been occupying the cave. Coming across the rocks, we had found the Cave of the Clouds. The blog was right, and we slowly tiptoed as we approached someone’s home. It felt like we were being watched. I kept yelling, “We come in peace.” No one answered and we decided to go in. Inside was a knapsack with notes, glass pickle jars full of zippers and Q-tips, pliers, an Isaac Asimov science-fiction novel, and a Kama Sutra book. Toward the back were several worn-out odd shoes inside a pail. The cave walls were mushy and slimy. The floor was covered in blankets and old jackets for insulation. He also had makeshift coatracks everywhere. Outside was one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen. It was so vast that I got vertigo. I was still wary he was watching us. There were newspapers scattered around, and the last date was September 2007. The more time I spent there, the more I thought about if he was the man with everything or nothing. It slowly started to feel like he had figured out how to really live life. He had an entire mountainside to himself. Maybe he knew something we didn’t.

July 4. On the road to White Sands, N.M.Today we’re driving to White Sands. We were here a year ago to the day when Chris got arrested without any shoes on. I had to call up Citibank so I could withdraw $2,000 to bail him out at 5 A.M. White Sands has been an annual stop these past four years. I felt like I could have a relaxed shoot because I know something good always happens here. The sand was a bit wet today and had a pearl coloring. Since it was the Fourth of July, a lot of families were on the dunes, and we had to hike out about a mile to take off our clothes. After the sun set, people’s bodies became silhouetted as a big white moon rose. It looked like Lawrence of Arabia [1962] meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind [1977]. Walking over the dunes back to the van, we could see the fireworks in the distance. We sped off quickly to get closer. It was farther away than I thought, so we pulled into a supermarket parking lot and sat on top of the van to watch the grand finale.

July 6. Jack Pierson’s ranch, Twentynine Palms, Calif.Long driving day from New Mexico to Twentynine Palms, California. We stopped only to pee at gas stations. I put my head out the window. The air felt exactly like a hair dryer. We made it to [artist] Jack Pierson’s ranch as the sun was setting. We managed to squeeze all 11 of us in the main house. Three beds, three couches, and an AeroBed. Jack’s place has become an annual stop. Everyone I bring there seems to instantly fall in love with his house and the famous Jack Pierson aesthetic-an effortlessly arranged hobo-thrift, pale-pastel palette. When I first started going out there, Jack used to have his signature letters spread out all over the property. Thousands of lost letters. You could see words on the ground that Jack had arranged and was contemplating.

July 11. Visalia, Calif.Today I became a member of the National Speleological Society. Now we can get secret maps to special caves. Driving out of Twentynine Palms, we hit 8,000 miles on the odometer. We had to wake up at 8 A.M. and drive to the Long Beach Airport to drop off Chelsea. I love the Long Beach Airport, with its ’40s design and outdoor baggage claim. Driving through L.A., we listened to the new Lil Wayne album. After that Chris and I dropped everyone off on Sunset Boulevard while we ran errands. We picked up a 4-by-6-foot piece of Plexiglas and a garbage bag full of fireworks that my L.A. assistant was holding. I called ahead of time and set up a nude karaoke shoot in San Francisco. Last year we didn’t get permission, and I almost got arrested while shooting-the owner had freaked out when she saw my model’s penis. Late at night we arrived at a hotel in Visalia. Conlin and Hanna were smoking in their room. They dropped the screen out the window and it hit the security guard’s fiancée in the head. $150 fine.

July 13. Sequoia and Kings Canyon -National Parks, Calif.The first half of the trip will be over tomorrow. We woke up at 5 A.M. I was determined to find the Wild Child Cave. Chris knew it was in the band of marble along the Kaweah River. It was the longest and highest hike we’ve done so far. We climbed 2,000 feet. Chris started poking his head into every hole in the ground along the way. We finally found the spot where the air was whistling out of the ground. The cave had a rushing river inside of it. It was really scary. We had to shimmy and squeeze through a 100-foot-long tunnel. It got very constricted, and we had to get down on our bellies. The cave is called Wild Child because of the wild nature of the access tube and that in the springtime it’s mostly flooded. On the first try going into the tunnel, Hanna and I had panic attacks and had to back out. The boys went in ahead of us. I had to overcome my fear and finally, after 15 minutes, forced myself to go back in. After the tube, you get to this tunnel that looks like a human spine. It really felt like we were on a journey up inside someone’s intestines. Inside the cave was beautiful white marble and knee-deep water. We discovered some holes inside that went into the abyss. When we came back out of the tunnel we were totally covered in dirt. We all went swimming in the river to clean off and sped off to make it to San Francisco by 10 P.M. for our last supper. I booked a table at Velvet Cantina in the Mission District. At the end of the evening I gave everyone their own gold “Let’s Get Naked” necklace, which each McGinley model gets after partaking in a journey across the USA. Good-bye!

Ryan McGinley

By
Photography Ryan McGinley

Published November 25, 2008

Every summer since 2005, Ryan McGinley has left New York to hit the open road. He brings along a young cast of guys and girls, all willing to take off their clothes, run, jump, swim, fall, and end up entangled in one another’s limbs, while McGinley shoots away with his Leica like the great chronicler of the perverse American pastoral. This past summer was no exception. Driving out west in a Ford E350 15-passenger van—with a 12-foot trailer attached—filled with six models, McGinley and his crew braved badgering cops, flash lightning, defective fireworks, nosy neighbors, frostbite, and more than a few on-the-road imbroglios. “I’ve always been interested in photographers that have made work across the States,” the 31-year-old McGinley says. “Richard Avedon’s In the American West, Robert Frank’s The Americans, and movies like Easy Rider [1969].” McGinley’s work has always been about getting out into the world. But the resultant photographs only tell some of the story. Exclusively for Interview, he recorded the crazy, random events in a daily travel diary of his first 45 days of the trip. We even supplied him with a Canon ELPH digital point-and-shoot to fire off a few behind-the-scenes pictures between print-film takes so that we could get a sense of his outward-bound shoots. McGinley’s days are exactly as you’d think and nothing like you’ve ever witnessed. Yes, Ryan, life would be much easier if you didn’t shoot kids naked, but it definitely wouldn’t be as much fun.

June 1. New York City.
Everyone showed up at my studio around 10 A.M.: Bryce from Long Island, Hanna from Vancouver, Karis from Newfoundland, Kirsten from Chicago, Jonas from Sweden, and Conlin from Oregon. I was nervous and popped a 2mg Klonopin. Everyone did a meet and greet, and we started to pack. When we got in the van, the battery died. I thought we’d have to pay a cab for a jump, but somehow the lights came back on and, miraculously, we were off. We stopped at my parents’ house in New Jersey to pick up the trailer that attaches to the hitch. My dad did 45 push-ups in front of everyone and then told his Korean War stories. He’s turning 80 this summer. Then we drove out to Cold Spring, New York. Everyone did their first nude shoot. Conlin led the group getting naked and swung from the rope into the lake. The water was freezing and everyone was shivering, so we hiked up a hill and shot until dusk. I had been talking to Karis prior to the trip and found out that he was gay. I try to stay clear of shooting my kind, as the sexual vibe is usually very strong. But I was happy to feel no sexual energy; I could think with my brain and not my dick. We drove to [photographer] David Armstrong’s weekend house in Bovina, New York, where we had a naked taco dinner and listened to Neil Young.

June 3. David Armstrong’s House, Bovina, N.Y.
Woke up before everyone else and walked around the house for a while to think about what was on the day’s roster for shooting. One barn on the property caught my eye. It was vast on the second floor and beautifully dilapidated. I used three models and three assistants. We videotape every shoot, and I need someone to tend to the music and change the song if it’s not the right mood. But a loud cracking noise—the floor, which almost broke—was our call to stop. We went outside and walked over to a patch of purple flowers, and I had everyone lie on the ground. I turned on the smoke machine, but it didn’t look right—so I got up on the ladder and shot from above. After the models got up, they had tiny purple flowers all over their backs. It was a beautiful shot that I couldn’t have planned.

as we got farther into the cave, we asked if we could start shooting. Chris asked the guide, ‘you’re okay with the photos being nude, right?’ Hanna immediately took off her clothes. girls- first always works. then everyone else got naked.Ryan McGinley

June 5. Millville, Pa.
We cleaned David’s house thoroughly before we left. I picked up all the cigarette butts on the front steps and by the dock of the pond. I got everyone together and had a talk with them about putting the cigarette butts in their pockets or, if they’re naked, giving them to me to put in my back pocket. It’s bad karma to leave them in nature. We all piled into the van and hit the road to Millville, Pennsylvania. We had found this guy Kevin through the Weird Pennsylvania book. He had a chronic neck injury and claimed he had been cured by standing in crop circles at his farm. He sells Christmas trees and makes homemade tractors. It was dusk, my favorite time to shoot. Everything was illuminated by Christmas lights. I decided to shoot in his gazebo, and we turned on the iPod and blasted the Rolling Stones. The sky was a deep blue. Bryce and Hanna got on the handmade swing set. The creaking noise made it seem like it was going to fall to pieces any second. The bug zapper was killing flies left and right, and then we did a night fireworks shoot in the water. I always wonder what our hosts think when they see the shoots happening.

June 6. Raystown Lake, Pa.
We arrived at a rental house at Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania. I’ve been trying not to stress out about the budget for the trip this summer but always seem to be thinking about how much I’m spending every day. When you arrive somewhere new, you have to quickly figure out a plan of action. I walked around the property making notes. The back deck was the best place to shoot. It had a pastoral landscape, and the sun was about to set. We set up the stuntman fall mat below the deck so it would look like people were jumping into the distance. In the woods were six long benches. This house was often used for church youth groups. I guess that’s where they give their sermons. I decided to do our own naked sermon. I had Jonas carry a chair out on top of his head to the benches to lead it. He sat nude and smoked cigarettes and told us Swedish prophecies while I took pictures. Then Christian, my first assistant, yelled that the fall mat was blown up. I did a few jumps off the deck to demonstrate the proper way to fall forward, on your ass and back. Jonas tried first to do it nude and bounced down the hill. It was a slow process, and I was getting nervous that we were losing light, so I stripped down and started to do falls: forward, backward, on my ass, flipping, spinning. I was trying to get everyone else psyched, and it seemed to work. Then everyone cooked a vegetarian dinner naked while I photographed them. The -interns set up the trampoline in the front of the house, and I did some -McGinley-style Muybridge studies of people bouncing and falling awkwardly while listening to “Sussudio” by Phil Collins.

June 9. Seneca Rocks, W. Va.
We drove the entire day to West Virginia, heading toward a tourist “show cave.” A show cave is a cave that has turned commercial. I watched all the Taco Bells, Wal-Marts, Waffle Houses, Cracker Barrels, IHOPs, and Subways out the window. Surprisingly, I’ve seen more Subways than McDonald’s. The GPS kept leading us in strange ways. I’ve come to realize that the GPS can be your best friend and worst enemy. As it got dark there were dozens of deer on the side of the highway. We arrived late at Red Oak, a house everyone thought was haunted. It was creaky and old and felt like a cult had once lived there. All the beds were arranged in the same way. It was all very Heaven’s Gate.

June 10. Smoke Hole Cave, W.Va.
We went swimming in a river, then headed to Smoke Hole Cave. We purposely got there late to take the last tour. We didn’t have permission to shoot nudes, so we were just going to wing it. Chris went into the office to talk to the woman about making “art photographs” that will be in museums and galleries. She said in her Southern accent, “I don’t care ’bout art. We have fishing and hunting magazines that come and make photos on our land.” Chris was persistent and convinced her to give us a private tour. She got one of the kids who works there to walk us through. He gave us the regular tour about moonshiners and the Native Americans who smoked meat in the cave. As we got farther into the cave, we asked if we could start shooting. Chris asked the guide, “You’re okay with the photos being nude, right?” Hanna immediately took off her clothes. Girls-first always works. Then everyone else got naked. Jonas was walking around wearing a sailor hat and looking very Querelle. We stayed for about an hour making photos until the guide’s shift was over. As we were exiting, Chris told the guide not to tell the owner it was a nude shoot. He kept saying he wanted to see her face when she found out. We gave him a big tip. As we arrived, the woman from the office pulled up to a screeching halt beside us. Jonas said in his Swedish accent, “Hi, how are you?” She was screaming, demanding the film. She got so crazy that Christian gave up five rolls out of the 15 we shot. Chris said, “I told you this was fine-art photography.” She said, “That’s not fine art. That’s just gross.”

June 12. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.
We scouted the area during the day. Once the sun was setting I started out doing trampoline studies. Since we had no property, we just set up the trampoline on the road in front of the house. Every time a car would drive by, we would throw a black sheet over whoever was naked. Then we walked up to an empty house with a backyard covered in leaves and did a fireworks shoot there. The fireworks produced an amazing amount of smoke, and we were worried someone might think the house was on fire. A car stopped, and we all hid. Since we were in the Great Smoky Mountains, our smoke could have been mistaken for fog. While driving the day before, I saw an amazing highway tunnel with a yellow glow that went through a mountain. I started getting ideas in my head as to how to pull off a nude shoot in it. We ended the night by driving down to the tunnel. It was late so there weren’t many cars on the road, but that didn’t mean there were none. Cops are especially out at night. We pulled up to the tunnel, and Bryce was ready, just wearing shorts. I asked Bryce to run back and forth through the tunnel a few times. On the second passing, two cars zoomed into the tunnel and scared the shit out of us. Life would be so much easier if I weren’t shooting nudes in tunnels.

June 13. Clayton, Ga.
It’s Friday the 13th. I’ve been out of contact with most everyone I’m friends with. It doesn’t feel right to call people when you’re on the road-it’s nice just to get away from it all. We drove from Tennessee through Franklin, North Carolina, where almost exactly one year ago to the day my Volkswagen Eurovan died on the side of the highway. I thought I had died too and saw the light, but it was just the white powder from the airbag. We arrived at the Millhouse in Clayton, Georgia, and we were so happy to be at such a beautiful house. Two dogs ran up to us as we pulled in the driveway. Originally we were thinking of hitting up the closest drive-in, but all they were playing was Kung Fu Panda [2008]. We were going to offer them money to shoot nudes, but we found out it was a family drive-in and decided against it. I walked down the trail and all of a sudden hundreds of purple butterflies started flying in the air. It was so beautiful-just lavender butterflies, smaller than most, hovering over one flowered plant. I followed the pathway to a river that led to the waterfall, which seemed like the most logical place to shoot. I asked Jonas, since he’s the most fearless. He looks like a frail, Swedish homosexual. In actuality he’s the most undercover gangster ladies’ man. We call him “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” The way his body moves fascinates me. He got right under the waterfall without any direction and was almost reading my mind. The water was freezing, and he kept getting brain freezes. Then I took shots of Bryce outside the house. I refer to Bryce jokingly with my assistants as “my favorite model” or “my boyfriend.” He’s the one I photograph the most. Conlin and Hanna are amazing as well. I love all my children. Conlin’s face is probably the most interesting I’ve ever worked with. I always think he’s going to kill me, but he says that’s just the way his mouth rests.

June 15. Charleston, S.C.
In the morning we embarked on a sailboat from a marina in Charleston, South Carolina. I saw dolphins and dove off the boat to swim with them. Over the course of an hour dark clouds moved in, and it turned gloomy. If there is one thing I’ve learned making pictures it’s that rainy days can be the best days to shoot, so I shot while it poured on us. We couldn’t go into the water because of lightning.

June 16. Augusta, Ga.
We woke up really early and drove to Augusta, Georgia. In the car I have a butterfly mask that belongs to my friend Lily, who modeled for me on my first cross-country trip, in 2005. She brought it along the first day and put it around the seat. She said it would bring us good luck. Lily overdosed in early 2007. She was the most fearless girl I’ve ever met. I suppose this is a quality I look for in all my models. I always think that she protects us from above on our journey.

June 19. On the road to Trenton, Ga.
We are going to Howard’s Waterfall Cave, where some guy died after being overcome by fumes from a leaking gas-station line. After hearing that, I’ve decided that if someone says, “Ryan, this seems dangerous,” I’ll say, “No, this seems adventurous.” The directions were wrong and we were on a country road off the beaten track. I asked for directions from a local good old boy weed-whacking his lawn. He said he knew where it was but hadn’t been there. He said the only time he would be going into the ground was when he was dead. We finally found the cave right off the side of the road, of all places. It was our first real cave. I was scared shitless crawling on my hands and knees and then having to slither on my belly to get to the bigger room. I instantly popped a Klonopin. My friend, pro skater Jerry Hsu, calls taking anxiety medicine “breaking the glass.” I texted him that “I’m about to break the glass.” Inside it was so beautiful and so scary!

The colors and the kids looked so great together. In the wee hours of the night Bryce played the acoustic guitar and sang. It nearly brought me to tears. Beautiful boys with acoustic guitars, forget about it . . .Ryan McGinley

June 20. Nashville, Tenn.
Today we had to go to the airport to send off Kirsten and Karis. Since I didn’t get a chance to cast them in person, I put them on the trip for only three weeks. Both of them didn’t really work out. I was -really -happy to see Kirsten go. When she laughed, she would snort. It was killing me. Karis was a good kid but couldn’t really participate in any of the shoots. I think the only exercise he’s ever gotten is chain-smoking. After sending the two off we drove into Nashville and walked around for a bit. Chris went back to the airport to pick up the new model, Chelsea. Chelsea is covered in freckles and I’m really excited to work with her. I ate another disgusting meal at a bar-deep-fried steak. I don’t know why I torture myself like this! I felt like shit and fell asleep in the car. I woke up feeling even worse and had to take some magic pills. That seemed to help, and we arrived at a cave with a waterfall where they had filmed parts of The Jungle Book [1994]. When we pulled in there was a dog that was mangy and hobbling. It was like a bad omen. We walked down to the waterfall, and Chelsea and Jonas walked -behind the water. We illuminated them with a light we had bought recently from Wal-Mart. The light shining through the crashing water looked amazing-it had a glow that was very alien. I brought Chris and Hanna down, and we made our way into the cave. The feeling of approaching the mouth of a cave is amazing. A cold rush of air is constantly shooting out, and there’s a cloudy mist in front of the opening. Chris and -Hanna crawled into some holes in the walls before Bryce crawled through openings in the sides. In the photos, he looks like he’s crawling through layers of the earth. All I want is for my pictures to look as if they’re illustrations that could be in children’s books. As we drove home I turned on the song “Doctor’s Orders” by Carol Douglas. Listening to it has become kind of a tradition after a great shoot.

June 22. Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Tenn.
My clothes got wet from a waterfall yesterday, so I put them on the dashboard of the van to dry. Black Levi’s and black Converses with black laces caked in mud, baking in the sun. Today we went to another cave in a park. Each summer I try to focus on one landscape and do a thorough photographic investigation of it. Last summer I spent most of my time shooting sand dunes. This summer I decided to explore caves. All different kinds-limestone, granite, sandstone, marble. Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama have about 10,000 caves. They’re mostly in the Cumberland Plateau. The closest one was in Cedars of Lebanon State Park and, surprisingly, it was a three-minute walk from the parking lot. The cave had a wide opening, but it was only tall enough to crawl through. As you got farther in, it got extremely muddy. It looked like a box of melted chocolates. I had Hanna and Jonas crawling around. I made it a point to tell them not to get mud on their asses. That’s been happening over the last few shoots in the caves, and it looks like you shit your pants-not cute. We took off before the park closed and set off to Memphis. Bought another pair of sunglasses. It’s become a ritual to buy a different pair at most every gas station. We arrived at the house where we are staying at around 2 A.M., a big Southern plantation house. I looked around and then went right to bed. Chris, Jonas, and Conlin walked out to the electrical tower in the distance. They hung out until sunrise. At some point, Chris pocket-dialed the owner of the house. She thought we were being attacked. She called the Memphis Police and said someone was in distress. When the boys were walking back up to the house, five -police cars pulled up into the driveway. Conlin was just wearing a towel held up by a black belt and a new pair of cowboy boots he had recently scored in Nashville. In the belt were two dangling, empty wineglasses. The police chief said, “Are you guys in a band?” Conlin immediately said yes. The officer deemed this behavior acceptable for anyone who was in a band. He told Jonas he had the complete Rolling Stones collection at home.

June 24. On a houseboat outside Mountain Home, Ark.
We had to stop to pick up more fireworks. It took a day to score because we ordered such large quantities. We would buy one of each piece and go across the road and test them in the parking lot to make sure they didn’t crackle, whistle, hiss, bang, or shoot flaming balls. A lot of fireworks say they do one thing but do the exact opposite. We arrived at the houseboat late and rushed everything out of the van. We were supposed to disguise the fireworks boxes, but we didn’t have time, and I had to tip the guy who helped to load the boat $100 to keep his mouth shut. Being on the boat felt nice. The colors and the kids looked so great together. In the wee hours of the night Bryce played the acoustic guitar and sang “Thirteen” by Big Star. It nearly brought me to tears. Beautiful boys with acoustic guitars, forget about it . . .

June 25. On the houseboat.
It was too sunny and perfect outside to take pictures, so I thought I’d do some flips off the top of the houseboat. I kept nailing one and a half flips and thought I’d go for a double. I didn’t make the final half of the rotation and slapped my back so hard against the water I let out a muffled scream. I popped up and played it off like it was no big thing. Chris looked down at me and said he was going to try a double backflip. He did and it was the worst double backslap I’ve ever seen in my life. He popped up and I could tell by his face something had gone wrong. Then I realized he was bleeding. He had smacked his knees into his face when he hit the water. Once the sun was low in the sky, I asked everyone to jump off the top of the houseboat into the sunset. Conlin jumped off the boat first with an umbrella. Jonas keeps surprising me with his mysterious athletic ability. He was flying off the boat like he was on Sweden’s Olympic diving team. By 10 P.M. I was so dead tired, but I had to get motivated because I didn’t fulfill my photographic feel-good quota for the day. Hanna got into the water first. It was dark and eerie with trees sticking out of the water. The water was so clear, and I thought it would be cool for her to go underwater and look up, and we could shoot the showers of sparks on the surface of the lake, as she rose up from below. By that time we all realized that Chris’s injury was very serious. He had bandaged his face up and the blood was still seeping through. His bottom lip was split in half.

June 26. Mountain Home, Ark.
We dropped Chris off at the emergency room, and he gave me the keys to the van so I could drive to the post office. Every day we label each roll of film and separate all the film into two boxes to be processed. That way, if a package gets lost in the mail, at least you have something. Bruce Weber taught me that trick. In the post office I asked the mailman what was good to eat and he said that if I liked meat loaf then go down the street to Ruby’s. I drove past Ruby’s and had to turn around but didn’t know how to reverse the van with the trailer on it. Before I knew it, the trailer was on one wheel. I got out to see what had happened and realized I had really fucked up. Chris has driven 4,000 miles so far with no problems, and I got into a wreck within two miles. Chris had to walk from the urgent-care clinic to come and fix everything. I tore open the trailer, blew out the tire, dented the van, and bent the hitch. I sat on the grass like a dog with his tail between his legs until everything was over.

June 27. Eden Falls Cave, Ark.
We drove to Lost Valley State Park to visit Eden Falls Cave. The hike to the cave was only three miles round-trip. Entering the cave was tight and you had to crawl super low. I knew it was a good cave because, entering it, I felt an eerie, cool breeze. I found a room with an extremely high ceiling and a waterfall. I was joking with everyone that I found a pharaoh’s bones. Hanna and Jonas huddled underneath the thin waterfall and tried to endure the freezing water. I photographed them until they couldn’t take the cold any longer. Conlin coined the term cave dick a few caves back. It’s when your dick shrinks from the cold air. As we were crawling out, Bryce was holding a pose for me and a bunch of bats flew out and circled around him. Everyone freaked out, but secretly I had been wishing for bats to appear in my photographs.

June 28. On the road to Colorado.
We had a long drive ahead of us through three states to get to Colorado. We pulled over to do a quick shoot because I loved the ominous sky. Right when I got out of the van, it started to pour. Bryce hopped out and ran up a hill on the side of the highway. I was shooting with an intern holding an umbrella over my head. It was a quick and crazy shoot. We were very exposed and could have easily been spotted. Driving through Lahoma, Oklahoma, I saw fields burning. It kills me not to be able to stop and shoot all the cinematic things. If I did, we would get nowhere. Supposedly the police in Oklahoma are very strict. We were careful not to go over the speed limit.

June 30. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colo.
We drove to the Great Sand Dunes and got a camping spot. I had talked to Chris about shooting on the snow in the mountains. We started to drive on this winding, bumpy, dirt road, but we didn’t have four-wheel drive and everyone was getting carsick. We resorted to plan B, parked the car, and walked out about a mile onto the dunes. The clouds were moving extremely fast over the mountains and it was drizzling. The air was warm, but the raindrops were so cold. Conlin was rolling around naked on the dunes and the raindrops were forming such beautiful textures on his sandy body. He looked like some sort of science-fiction creature. Hanna and I went up to the top of the dunes and she noticed the hair on the top of my head was standing straight up. Then I saw that hers was, too, and we saw a bolt of lightning strike. We ran down the dune in fast-forward to safer territory, and then back to the van to wait for the lightning to pass. When we got back, I was still shooting Hanna with her top off. The park ranger caught us and gave me a lecture about indecent exposure, saying that if she was going to “air out,” she shouldn’t be doing it in the park because she might traumatize a little kid.

July 1. No Name, Colo.
We’ve been on the road for one month! One down, two to go. I’m really not feeling the Colorado landscape. All these pine trees, rocks, and mountains are making me sick. I’m having an “over nature” moment. We arrived in a town called No Name and started hiking up a mountain around 5:30 P.M., looking for the Cave of the Clouds, but it was nowhere in sight. Back at the hotel, Jonas and Chelsea went down to the bar, and a bunch of plumbers who had been there since happy hour thought Jonas was a chick. Once they got up close and personal, they figured out Jonas was a boy and got really homophobic. The bartender yelled at them and within minutes they came around full circle and wanted to kiss him. The funny part is that Jonas isn’t even gay. Conlin showed up in his towel getup. A white towel with a belt to hold it up, cowboy boots, and no shirt. That night I had crazy dreams. Chris said I was holding an invisible camera up in bed and giving the models directions.

July 3. Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Each morning I wake up and ask myself, What’s a bitch to do? I have no clean clothes to wear today, so that means a bitch needs to do the laundry. I was determined to find the Cave of the Clouds today. It was really hot and hard to breathe because the air is so thin. It took us about two and a half hours to get to the top of the mountain, with a few breaks in between to rest. We finally made it and couldn’t find a cave in sight. I felt like I had wasted two days. On the way down, Chris saw something out of the corner of his eye and we went to explore it. Chris read in a caver’s blog entry from 2006 that a homeless man has been occupying the cave. Coming across the rocks, we had found the Cave of the Clouds. The blog was right, and we slowly tiptoed as we approached someone’s home. It felt like we were being watched. I kept yelling, “We come in peace.” No one answered and we decided to go in. Inside was a knapsack with notes, glass pickle jars full of zippers and Q-tips, pliers, an Isaac Asimov science-fiction novel, and a Kama Sutra book. Toward the back were several worn-out odd shoes inside a pail. The cave walls were mushy and slimy. The floor was covered in blankets and old jackets for insulation. He also had makeshift coatracks everywhere. Outside was one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen. It was so vast that I got vertigo. I was still wary he was watching us. There were newspapers scattered around, and the last date was September 2007. The more time I spent there, the more I thought about if he was the man with everything or nothing. It slowly started to feel like he had figured out how to really live life. He had an entire mountainside to himself. Maybe he knew something we didn’t.

July 4. On the road to White Sands, N.M.
Today we’re driving to White Sands. We were here a year ago to the day when Chris got arrested without any shoes on. I had to call up Citibank so I could withdraw $2,000 to bail him out at 5 A.M. White Sands has been an annual stop these past four years. I felt like I could have a relaxed shoot because I know something good always happens here. The sand was a bit wet today and had a pearl coloring. Since it was the Fourth of July, a lot of families were on the dunes, and we had to hike out about a mile to take off our clothes. After the sun set, people’s bodies became silhouetted as a big white moon rose. It looked like Lawrence of Arabia [1962] meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind [1977]. Walking over the dunes back to the van, we could see the fireworks in the distance. We sped off quickly to get closer. It was farther away than I thought, so we pulled into a supermarket parking lot and sat on top of the van to watch the grand finale.

July 6. Jack Pierson’s ranch, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Long driving day from New Mexico to Twentynine Palms, California. We stopped only to pee at gas stations. I put my head out the window. The air felt exactly like a hair dryer. We made it to [artist] Jack Pierson’s ranch as the sun was setting. We managed to squeeze all 11 of us in the main house. Three beds, three couches, and an AeroBed. Jack’s place has become an annual stop. Everyone I bring there seems to instantly fall in love with his house and the famous Jack Pierson aesthetic-an effortlessly arranged hobo-thrift, pale-pastel palette. When I first started going out there, Jack used to have his signature letters spread out all over the property. Thousands of lost letters. You could see words on the ground that Jack had arranged and was contemplating.

July 11. Visalia, Calif.
Today I became a member of the National Speleological Society. Now we can get secret maps to special caves. Driving out of Twentynine Palms, we hit 8,000 miles on the odometer. We had to wake up at 8 A.M. and drive to the Long Beach Airport to drop off Chelsea. I love the Long Beach Airport, with its ’40s design and outdoor baggage claim. Driving through L.A., we listened to the new Lil Wayne album. After that Chris and I dropped everyone off on Sunset Boulevard while we ran errands. We picked up a 4-by-6-foot piece of Plexiglas and a garbage bag full of fireworks that my L.A. assistant was holding. I called ahead of time and set up a nude karaoke shoot in San Francisco. Last year we didn’t get permission, and I almost got arrested while shooting-the owner had freaked out when she saw my model’s penis. Late at night we arrived at a hotel in Visalia. Conlin and Hanna were smoking in their room. They dropped the screen out the window and it hit the security guard’s fiancée in the head. $150 fine.

July 13. Sequoia and Kings Canyon -National Parks, Calif.
The first half of the trip will be over tomorrow. We woke up at 5 A.M. I was determined to find the Wild Child Cave. Chris knew it was in the band of marble along the Kaweah River. It was the longest and highest hike we’ve done so far. We climbed 2,000 feet. Chris started poking his head into every hole in the ground along the way. We finally found the spot where the air was whistling out of the ground. The cave had a rushing river inside of it. It was really scary. We had to shimmy and squeeze through a 100-foot-long tunnel. It got very constricted, and we had to get down on our bellies. The cave is called Wild Child because of the wild nature of the access tube and that in the springtime it’s mostly flooded. On the first try going into the tunnel, Hanna and I had panic attacks and had to back out. The boys went in ahead of us. I had to overcome my fear and finally, after 15 minutes, forced myself to go back in. After the tube, you get to this tunnel that looks like a human spine. It really felt like we were on a journey up inside someone’s intestines. Inside the cave was beautiful white marble and knee-deep water. We discovered some holes inside that went into the abyss. When we came back out of the tunnel we were totally covered in dirt. We all went swimming in the river to clean off and sped off to make it to San Francisco by 10 P.M. for our last supper. I booked a table at Velvet Cantina in the Mission District. At the end of the evening I gave everyone their own gold “Let’s Get Naked” necklace, which each McGinley model gets after partaking in a journey across the USA. Good-bye!