glenn o’brien, laurie simmons, and ryan mcginley write about photos they love

'Dear Dave,' features personal essays on unpredictable photos from 25 creatives. In exclusive excerpts from issue 25, Ryan McGinley remembers exploring San Francisco with Sandy Kim, and Glenn O'Brien writes about the iconic silver interior of Warhol's...

by Hannah Ongley
01 June 2017, 5:05pm

Sandy Kim, "Girls," 2009

Dear Dave, — comma included — is a photography magazine as intimate and open-ended as its title suggests. Stephen Frailey (also a photographer and chair of SVA's photography BFA program) launched Dear Dave, in 2007, the idea being to pair photos with short essays from some of his favorite people. For the thrice-yearly glossy's 25th issue, he's given 25 writers and artists free reign to write a short piece about any photo of their choosing. The resulting partnerships range from the expected to the wildly surprising, each revelatory in its own way.

An excerpt from Ryan McGinley's essay on his protégé-turned-muse Sandy Kim lists the younger artist's most charming characteristics: "I love that Sandy is small, Asian, and overshares," he writes. "Her raw images of her love life and long relationship with her boyfriend Colby are some of my favorites. The vulnerable images of her having sex, her period, or even period-sex, shot from the female perspective seem very empowering. I proudly own one from this series and it disturbs visitors as much today as it did when I hung it in 2010."

Though the photo he actually chooses looks more like a still from a Sofia Coppola film than something not safe for Instagram. It's a 2009 shot of McGinley's favorite band at the time, Girls, taken on a crowded, sun-drenched bus. To anyone unfamiliar with the San Francisco psych-rock duo, the name of the photo is a bit of a double-entendre; to fans it's almost an inside joke. The two frontmen are nearly drowned out by a crowd of literal teenage girls.

Billy Name, "Andy Warhol at the Silver Factory," 1964, © Billy Name Estate, Courtesy Dagon James

Taking us much further back in pop culture history is irreverent downtown luminary Glenn O'Brien. Before he sadly passed away earlier this year, the man of many exploits took a trip down memory lane to his days spent in Andy Warhol's star-studded Factory. O'Brien chose a photo by his cohort Billy Name, who was tapped by Warhol to cover his infamous downtown art space in a patchwork blanket of brilliant silver.

"The Factory wasn't a sleek seamless silver chrome a la NASA or with the perfection of mirror, but a mixed bag of reflective random surfaces, textured by the crinkle of the foil, almost geological in its structure," O'Brienn recalls. "This irregularity made the light unique. Illuminating the denizens of the place in a stark, unnatural manner. The blondes like Nico, Edie Sedgwick, or Baby Jane Holzer fluoresced. The black haired ones, like John Cale and International Velvet glowered and melted into tarry molten shadow." The most famous blonde — Warhol himself — sits cross-armed in front of a wall resembling an enormous disposable baking tray.

Jimmy DeSana, "INSTANT CAMERA," 1980 

Laurie Simmons has also selected a photo from an old friend, the downtown punk art icon Jimmy DeSana, who doubled as a mentor for Simmons before he passed away from AIDS in 1990. DeSana's "Instant Camera" depicts a neon gel-lit arc of bodies in what Simmons describes as "a male/female Yin Yang with an aggressively feminist twist." The twist is that you don't know who's the photographer and who's the subject. "The classic artist/muse relationship has been completely upended," Simmons writes, "when the nude model seems to have wrested the camera away from the photographer and is taking control of the portrait." 

Issue 25 of Dear Dave, is available from June 15 online and at Barnes and Noble.


Text Hannah Ongley
Images courtesy of Dear Dave,

Andy Warhol
Sandy Kim
Ryan McGinley
Laurie Simmons
Dear Dave
laurie simons