Youth, by definition, is ephemeral. A passing phase. A moment of innocence, or freedom, or invincibility that at some point we grow out of. Few artists have captured that period of life so well as Ryan McGinley. His early photographs of his life, his friends and the Lower East Side helped to define New York City at the turn of the century.
From these early images of beautiful young things kissing, fucking, tagging, climbing trees and running naked, his style developed into, among other things, a timeless study of the nude in landscape series Moonmilk. His latest work is focused on images of kids at gigs, grids of young faces in rapture. In many of his photographs there is a sense of speed – the fragility of time caught for a second as it whizzes by. In this series of rarely seen first works, which McGinley specially selected from his archives, we see the beginnings of a style, an attitude. Familiar faces from his circle feature repeatedly. They are a testament to youth, a specific period in time, once fleeting and now enshrined.
Francesca Gavin: Why did you choose these images in particular?
Ryan McGinley: This selection was hidden away in my archives, I had to blow the dust off the negatives. These are images that mean more to me now than they did when I first took them.
FG: Your work felt like it was so intertwined with your life when you began. What memories do these photographs bring back?
RM: I can now see how my interests, style and subject matter started to develop out of this early documentary work. I was a fly on the wall for the first five years. These photographs make me miss living in an east village flop house and having so many people coming through my apartment to photograph.
FG: How do you feel looking at your friends then like Dash, Dan, Agathe and Marc?
RM: In these photos we were all trying to figure out how to be artists and lovers. I was figuring out how to be gay. Marc was my first serious relationship and I documented every second of it with my camera. He was always with me so I got to learn how to take pictures by being with him so much. Dash and Agathe were the first couple to let me document their love life. Dakota showed me true wild energy and always spiced up the vibe. Dan and I lived together for over a decade. Looking back, my time in New York always seems like one long day.
FG: Do you think there is something particularly passionate about youth?
RM: Passion is ageless but early puppy passion can bring a tear to your eye.
Read the full article in the latest issue of AnOther Magazine, out now.
Text by Fran Gavin