Out of the Woods, Into the Studio With Ryan McGinley



Ryan McGinley works in a monograph-packed, L-shaped studio on the Lower East Side. As is well documented, he used to share the space with artist Dan Colen, but he now reserves the second room for the tacked-up black-and-white photographs that make up his latest series, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” which opens March 18 at Team Gallery in Soho.

One rarely thinks of a studio when picturing McGinley at work. It’s easier to picture him on rooftops or New York streets, as was the set of his early work, or amidst the country roads, forests, and caves of his later, lysergic-colored productions. But his latest venture consists of 100 portraits of young men and women ranging in age from 18 to 29, completely nude and not swallowed up by their environments—as is typical of a McGinley photograph—but starkly defined against a white backdrop. It’s a rather sweeping survey of color, sex, and sexuality, and of lean, ripening bodies, many of them decorated with homemade tattoos or scars.

With so many youths in the fold, it’s no surprise that the subjects actually hail from all over the world—or at least those parts that have rock festivals, which is where they were picked by one of Ryan’s assistants who spends her time attending global concerts on the lookout for someone he might want to capture. Each youth was then shot in the small second room of the Canal Street studio, still very animated even with the unremitting intimacy of the post-adolescent nudity on display. To get that kind of movement, Ryan relied on a “hype girl” who talked to the subject, asking him or her to sing a favorite song, jump on a mini-trampoline, or try acting exercises while he shot them on his digital camera. That kind of engagement is important to the artist. “I can work with shyness,” he says, “but for the most part I want people to feel comfortable with me. It’s really more about the photographer feeing comfortable right when they walk in that makes the subject feel comfortable.”




It’s possible some critics will accuse Ryan of looking to make a generation his own based on his subjects’ earnestly imperfect features, genitals, and expressions, but actually Ryan picked the kids that reminded him most of his brothers and sisters. “I grew up with five brothers and two sisters,” he says. “I idolized them. They all had such different personalities—the cheerleader, the stoner, the transsexual—and I was thinking about my siblings and their friends when I was deciding who to shoot here.” Many of the subjects here similarly fulfill a “type”—the Chrissie Hynde-esque girl rocker, the ultimate punk, the lithe effeminate boy. (Interestingly, Ryan says that his mom dislikes this new series for its graphic sexuality).

The artist lives one flight up from his studio in a smaller single-room apartment. He’s installed a tub in the center of the room and sometimes opens the curtains to take a bath in the flooding afternoon sunlight. But McGinley is no longer the young street hooligan and rough-and-tumble diarist of the art burgeoning world. He’s a full-grown master. But he keeps returning to the subject of youth. “I like that period of life when there’s lots of confusion and opportunity and angst,” he says. “It like when you can feel that kind of energy in the photographs.”