Evidence of Fun

about Ryan McGinley

Boo Boo tells about an outsider who used his band of beautiful friends to create his “evidence of fun”: enchanting naked creatures around the fields, or some other surrealistic place. She is Ryan’s hype girl, who now talks to the models and get them comfortable so that he can get a natural shot. That’s the imagine of the new man people fall in love because of his telling about liberation and hedonism, in a moment when other photographers as Nan Goldin and Larry Clark were saying something painful and anxiety producing about kids and what happens when they take drugs and have sex in an ungoverned urban underworld.

Ryan McGinley just started out announcing that The Kids Are Alright, through his self-published book — titled after a film about the Who —, influenced by the same Larry Clark, who he met in Manhattan when Larry was hanging out with some skateboarders — one of them was Ryan, in high school at the time. That was in 1999. The book found an admiring audience, New York group shows and magazine assignments followed.

Dash Bombing

Ryan (passed out) and Dash (having just written all over Ryan in permanent marker), 2002

The 20 large color prints here are portraits of Ryan’s 20-something friends, lovers and fellow artists. The show opens with an evocative image: a distant, jittery nighttime shot of his friend Dash Snow — died of a drug overdose “in a $325-a-night hotel room with an antique marble hearth” — spray-painting a wall over by the Holland Tunnel, high above the city: He was the wildest kid I’ve ever known. He would tag everything and be running up on rooftops and climbing fire escapes. It seems like we were immediately best friends.

The glamour turns funkier in pictures of young men rolling joints, vomiting or masturbating, though the tone is relaxed and playful, as if the world were on recess. Two women — the artists Hanna Liden and Emily Sundblad — cavort in the woods. A man and a woman go for a nude nocturnal swim. Two men named Dan and Eric wake up together in bed.

Brandee (Midnight Flight), 2011

Ryan’s early work was primarily shot on 35mm film and using Yashica T4s and Leica R8s. Since 2004, McGinley’s style has evolved from documenting his friends in real-life situations towards creating envisioned situations that can be photographed. He casts his subjects at rock ‘n’ roll festivals, art schools, and street castings in cities. In describing the essence of youth and adventure central to McGinley’s work, Jeffrey Kluger wrote in TIME: Photography is about freezing a moment in time, McGinley’s is about freezing a stage in a lifetime. Young and beautiful is as fleeting as a camera snap, and thus all the more worth preserving.

“Such a big part of what I do is removing myself and other people from the city. Taking people to these beautiful and remote locations, being together for long periods of time, getting that intimacy, and doing all these intense activities together every day. In a way, it’s like a bizarre summer camp or like touring in a rock band or traveling circus. It’s all those things combined. Just taking everyone out of their element so you have their full attention.

Jake (Fall Foliage), 2011

Dakota Hair, 2004




This transition to creating work with an emphasis on heavy pre-production is embodied in Ryan’s famous summer cross-country road trip series. In a 2014 feature, GQ wrote, “His road trips, legendary among city-dwelling creatives under 30 — they all know someone who knows someone who went on one —, have been annual summer occasions for almost a decade. Ryan and his assistants start planning the journey in January. They consult maps, newspapers, travel books. It usually starts with a specific desire — wanting to shoot kids in a cypress tree with Spanish moss, say — and the trip itself is plotted according to where such a setting can be found”. As Ryan continued this series, he began incorporating different elements into his photos, such as shooting with fireworks, animals, and in extreme locations like caves.

Ryan is also credited for the formation of the New York City based band The Virgins after introducing and photographing two of its members in Tulum, in 2004. McGinley said of the band: “Their lyrics are really poetic and very much about New York and the life that we live”.




In 2008, the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós used one of Ryan’s images for their fifth album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. The video for the first track from the album, Gobbledigook, was inspired by his work. After 4 years, Ryan reunited with the band to direct the video for Varúð. The non-profit Art Production Fund partnered with the NYC Taxi Commission to show the film in 3,000 cabs. The following year, it was screened in Times Square as part of Art Production Fund’s Midnight Moment series, in which every night at midnight for one month the video played simultaneously on electronic billboards and newspaper kiosks throughout Times Square.

Ryan is born in October, 1977 and lives in New York City. For GQ, he’s “the most important photographer in America”.

Hay Hop

RMcG 1



The New York Times

Way Far

Whistle for the Wind

You and I


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