Photographer Ryan McGinley’s work is synonymous with sweeping landscapes populated by wanton youths, running naked across fields, hanging in trees, or jumping into rivers. But for his new show “Yearbook,” which opens today at Team Gallery in Soho, McGinley took a hard left. He’s lined the walls with an uninterrupted collage of oversize portraits photographed in his Canal Street studio over the last six years. Every surface of the gallery is plastered with the bodies of happy hipsters — many of them tattooed and skinny, and all of them nude.
The 700 images represent McGinley’s first major foray into studio photography. “I was scared of studio photography because it seemed like, What could I do in the studio? Everybody has kind of killed it,” he told the Cut. But, “At a certain point, I just thought: I don’t need to reinvent the wheel in the studio. I can just contribute to the practice of making studio portraits, and I can try to inject a voice in some way.”
Even though there are no cornfields or waterfalls or dark ponds involved, the images convey his signature celebration of youth and freedom. The portraits, many of which are set against bright, primary-colored backgrounds, are simultaneously brooding and a little bit joyful — the subjects seem like they’re having fun, and it’s clear McGinley is, too. “It was a way for me to connect with the artist community,” he says of the project, for which he shot 300 people between the ages of 18 and 33. “Everyone in this installation is pretty much an artist — actor, musician, DJ, painter. There’s a lot of queer people in the show. It’s a community. It’s mostly people who live downtown.”
It might seem like the models are close personal friends of the photographer who just happened to drop by his studio, but many of them are actually strangers who have been cast for the job. (There are a few familiar faces, too, like the models Andreja Pejic and Shaun Ross.) McGinley employs a woman he calls his “hype girl,” who helps the models loosen up in front of the camera. “She’ll say things like, ‘Do you like cheeseburgers,’ or ‘What kind of problems are you having this week?’ They also use props — like trampolines and treadmills — to make the models more comfortable (“When models leave my studio, they felt like they got a workout … We have a table of water to make sure people hydrate at all times.”) A handful of the models, he says, will accompany him on his annual cross-country road trip later this year.
“This guy is a DJ,” McGinley says, pointing at one image. “She’s a set designer, and this girl is amazing — she works at a coffee shop. This girl’s a dancer; I was so into her muscles.” Then, gesturing to the ceiling: “He’s in a band, the guy with the tattoos on his face is a voguer, the guy with the other tattoos is a Punk for Christ.” He looks back down, and smiles. “I like that it’s like a naked cave in here. You can just get lost in everybody’s tattoos.”