ryan mcginley brings his nude 'yearbook' to basel

Downtown New York’s most-loved chronicler tells i-D which Morrissey lyrics he lives by as he installs his colorful portraits at the Swiss art fair.

by i-D Staff and Benjamin Barron
19 June 2015, 1:50pm

For Ryan McGinley, there's always something to learn. Despite being the youngest photographer to ever merit a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art (at 25 in 2003), McGinley still positions himself as a metaphorical high school senior in photography's graduating class. For the past seventeen years, McGinley has documented New York's youth culture. He cast his closest friends - artists Dash Snow and Tim Barber, among others - in his earliest photographs, and later established a tradition of annual cross-country road trips which he has continued until this year. His latest series of photographs, Yearbook, anoints the next generation of artists through a series of colorful portraits made in his Lower East Side studio. First shown in New York last year, the 200 or so nude portraits are a sort of alternative yearbook of the creative class. Following Yearbook's (re-)opening at Art Basel, we talked about the series, how the NY gay scene has changed, and his advice for the next graduating class of artists.

Where are you now?
Right now I'm at an airport going from Basel, Switzerland to Puerto Rico. I was installing the Yearbook room at the Art Unlimited section of Art Basel. Before that, I spent two weeks traveling to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and Helsinki after my opening at Kunsthal KAdE in Amsterdam.

What has a normal day been like for you recently?
I just finished up a big project this winter, shooting nudes in many icy conditions. I shot from January through mid-April each week in the snow. I also just finished a book called Way Far with Rizzoli that has four years of work and a great essay by David Rimanelli.

How did you start taking portraits for Yearbook?
I started shooting black and white studio portraits in 2008, made a book, and had an exhibition in 2010 at Team Gallery called Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. After that, I really wanted to work with color in the studio and have been shooting the Yearbook project ever since.

How do you choose your subjects?
I love photographing artists. Most people I photograph are part of the creative community. I've got an amazing casting director who finds me very interesting and enthusiastic people to work with. We find a lot of my subjects at music festivals, art schools, and in Downtown NYC.

Do you remember every subject you've photographed?
Yes, but I mostly remember their stories. When we shoot photos, we talk about their lives the whole time - love, politics, passions, music, food, etc. I remember the little anecdotes - details get stuck in my brain.

How were you able to convince people to participate in your photographs toward the beginning of your career?
Whenever people ask me how I get people to pose nude I simply reply, "I just ask." I've always lived by Morrissey's lyrics, "Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you, from doing all the things in life you'd like to."

How does your personal work relate to the commercial commissions you've received?
My personal work is my own vision. No hair, no make-up, no styling, no clothes. I find the locations and pick the models. Fashion is much more collaborative, with a lot of great creative minds coming together to create an image.

How has your experience of the gay community changed since you first moved to New York?
I do miss my early days of being gay and living in the East Village. Avenue A to 2nd Ave had a great gay bar crawl. We'd start out at The Phoenix, then go to The Cock, The Starlight, Eastern Block, I.C. Guys, The Boiler Room and finally end up at The Hole. It was pre-Grindr so you had to go out and actually find people.

How do you feel the Internet has changed the way people approach photography?
I love that everyone is taking photos and that photography has become much more of a language.

What excites you at the moment?
I felt really inspired by Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen and Fotografiska in Stockholm. Also Kulttuurisauna in Helsinki was the most beautiful sauna I've ever been to - you heat up in the most minimal, beautiful space and then dip into The Baltic Sea to cool off.

You've accomplished a lot at a young age — what are your goals now?
It's nice to be in the position to help other artists. My favorite photographer for the last few years has been Sandy Kim. I also love Petra Collins and her crew of creative girls. My personal goals for the future are to give my dog and my mom unconditional love.

What's your advice for the generation of artists establishing themselves now?
My philosophy is your experience in photography is based on how long you've been practicing it. I've been shooting photos seriously for seventeen years now, so I'm just about to graduate high school in photography years.


Text Benjamin Barron
Photography Jacob Robert Price

Art Basel
Ryan McGinley