The Genteel
February 27, 2021


Ryan McGinley is on track to establish himself as a generation-defining photographer. Source:

Whistle For The Wind is the first major monograph chronicling the career of 34-year-old photographer, Ryan McGinley, from his first photography show in SoHo in 2000 up to the present. The New Jersey native initially began documenting gritty downtown New York with dark images of sex and graffiti, and in 2003, was the youngest artist ever to display his work in a solo show (The Kids are Alright) at the Whitney Museum of American Art - an achievement that suggests McGinley is on track to establishing himself as a generation-defining photographer.

Ryan McGinley Whistle for the Wind
The youthful subjects emanate a
sense of freedom and liberation. 

In his award winning photography bookMoonmilk (2009), McGinley departed from his earlier work of dark, graffiti-inked amateur snapshots of New York. Through a series of colour photographs of nudes posed within textured and animating caves across North America, McGinley aimed to showcase spectacular, yet often undocumented, natural underground caverns. The diversity of McGinley's creative output highlights his innovative talent, and is in a solid position to inspire a new generation of photographers.

In Whistle For The Wind, McGinley's work is considered by three prominent figures: filmmaker Gus Van Sant; novelist and critic, Chris Kraus; and writer, activist and artist, John Kelsey. Each offer their unique perspective and rich insight on the creative process of McGinley's work.

When speaking to Isabel Wilkinson of The Daily Beast, McGinley explained that the underlying concept behind the monograph, released in June 2012, is "seeing where the road takes you and running away from home." The images of naked men and women frolicking about in various dreamlike natural locations were ultimately intended to epitomise the great American road trip.

His work is distinctly unlike the work of precedent photographers who have portrayed the same thematic veil. The youthful and exuberant subjects pictured in McGinley's work embody a sense of emancipated lightheartedness. His subjects are not troubled, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Instead, they can be seen running through meadows, expressing their love, free falling from cliffs, swimming or simply taking a break from the intense powerhouse of life. Perhaps, McGinley is suggesting that this is what living should feel like. The carefree energy that emanates from Whistle For The Wind is unique for its genre; it contains a distinct sense of honesty, which has been submerged into lively bursts of colour.

[McGinley's] subjects are not troubled, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Instead, they can be seen running through meadows, expressing their love, free falling from cliffs, swimming or simply taking a break from the intense powerhouse of life.

Despite the reckless freedom portrayed in the images, McGinley explains that his creative process is far from liberated. Behind the carefree photographs is a meticulous method of "planning everything and planning for everything to go wrong." In an interview with Philip Gefter of The New York Times in 2007, McGinley stated that his photography is "…a celebration of life, fun and the beautiful … [it is] … a world that doesn't exist. A fantasy. Freedom is real. There are no rules. The life I wish I was living."

AnotherMag describes McGinley's latest book as a medley of "youth, hedonism and unconventional beauty," whilst "it would be difficult to produce two more fitting candidates" than McGinley and Van Sant. Naturally, the two talents paired up to discuss the appeal of using youthful subjects, photography, filmmaking and living fast in New York. Their interview was recorded and excerpts have been printed in his new book.

You can find the full version online on Ryan McGinley's personal website.

On the process of casting models…

Ryan McGinley: … Casting is such a big part of my process … when I travel and do larger trips, I'll take the people who I liked the best, and those people tend to be people who have never been really photographed before … It's easier for me to pull emotions out of them, rather than someone who is professional where they are offering you emotions.

On his creative process…

RM: … half the battle is arriving and being there … it can go in so many different directions. Whatever happens, it always goes somewhere else. It never ends up where I started with the original idea … It's exciting for me to find that [perfect location] and then just work through it. My work is about repetition - to make a photograph, it's about doing a scene, a repetitious act until people can't do it anymore, until they're tired … My shoots are so active that it really is a performance if you watch it happening. 

On being youthful…

RM: … youth is what I'm most interested in because it's a time in your life when there's so many possibilities and so much confusion and anger and optimism and it's all wrapped up in one. It's also wrapped up in beauty. There is a period where you're the most beautiful, and it's all those aspects together that I think are interesting.



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