Friday, April 4, 2008

Tan Lines

A couple of months ago, I posted about the Dan Colen, Dash Snow show Hamster Nest at Deitch. In that post, I made a brief mention of Ryan McGinley. McGinley became famous with a body of work that has been compared to that of Nan Golden (i.e shocking, confessional). But in his recent body of work, I also see a similarity to Slim Aaron’s photographs of the very rich, privileged, and beautiful of the ’70s.

Staged yet intimate the pictures provide an idealized glimpse into an exclusive world. For the past two summers, McGinley has embarked on a cross-country road trip with gaggle of models and assistants. The idea? To create multiple settings that were reminiscent of nudist magazines from the early ’70s. He shot 20-30 rolls of film a day, believing less in composition/waiting for the moment and more in editing. Incidentally the entire project cost McGinley about $100,000 per summer.

“His subjects are performing for the camera and exploring themselves with an acute self-awareness that is decidedly contemporary. They are savvy about visual culture, acutely aware of how identity can be not only communicated but created. They are willing collaborators,” said Sylvia Wolf, in the New York Times. She is the former curator of photography at the Whitney, who organized his show there (he was 24 at the time) in about 2000.

However, looking at his work, I can’t help but thinking of two things: the first, the Lomographic images that one sees on the eponymous site, and a series of watercolor drawings that local artist-turned-nightclub impresario Ryan Rummel was making three or so years ago. Rummel’s imagery was populated with the same waif-thin, androgynous, sexually-charged imagery. So I can’t help but think that not only has this been done before, but also it has been done better.

The Times further quoted McGinley saying, “My photographs are a celebration of life, fun and the beautiful,” he said. “They are a world that doesn’t exist. A fantasy. Freedom is real. There are no rules. The life I wish I was living.”

The sepia-toned, cyan-infused over-and-under exposed prints, though undeniably lovely, are nostalgic and seem a little like Polaroid outtakes from a college photography class. Though they are staged, and there is something inherently decadent and privileged about them, I still find myself liking them more than I dislike them–-or even the premise of the project. Then again maybe I just like tan lines.

The project, I Know Where The Summer Goes, is on view at Team Gallery, 83 Grand Street, cross streets Wooster and Greene, on the ground floor until May 3. And unlike paintings, sculpture, or installation I’m pretty-sure photographs are fair-ish game for online commentary.

One last note: He will be honored as Young Photographer of the Year next week at the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Awards dinner.

*click on the title to go to his website.