Painfully Constructed Images
Ryan McGinley’s large, impressive pictures of nude bodies in dialogue with nature, beautiful or agonizing, are the most recent additions to this young yet firmly established New York-based photographer’s body of work. It isn’t entirely clear which aspect of these staged images is their main subject, or in focus: the nude, or the landscape. One way to decide the issue is to leave it up to the titles of the pictures and the series–some of them belong to a series called “Spring & Fall,” which seems reasonable enough. But that might also cause you to overlook something. What is the artist actually trying to do with these landscapes? After all, this series consists of a great number of pictures.
To form an opinion on this, and to find a satisfying answer to this question, it might be worthwhile to take a look around, both within the personal history of the artist and within the history of art photography. McGinley is, to a great extent, one of the more recent links in a more or less unbroken chain of artists who have all worked or are currently working within a tradition rooted in New York’s East Village. Notable examples are Ginsberg, Warhol, Hujar, and Goldin. His first pictures, a series of polaroids that has attained iconic status, and which is said to include than 10,000 photographs, represent a subject that is fairly commonly addressed by young art students. He was simply living his life among his friends and peers, with his camera in his hands. These pictures were shown in a solo exhibition at Whitney back in 2004, when he was only 26 years old, and were featured in exhibitions in New York and Denver last year. You could say that they define an era, not by virtue of being unique in the sense that nothing like them has ever been created or shown before, but by virtue of serving as a source of inspiration for a large group of young photographers. This new generation looks to McGinley as their role model rather than to the older generation I mentioned above, who are in turn the role models that McGinley looks up to.