You and I

Ryan McGinley
Twin Palms Publishers, 2011

Reviewed by Daniel W. Coburn

Issue 36

Ryan McGinley’s latest monograph, You and I, contains photographs of young people living free of care, clothes, and consequence. It takes me back to the days of my youth – if I hadn’t spent most of them brooding in my room, suffering from the hell that is adolescence, complete with acne and social anxiety. The beautiful people in McGinley’s photographs spend their days jumping on trampolines and lighting fireworks. They seldom wear clothes, but their milky white, porcelain-like skin never sunburns. Their lean, angular bodies resemble those that litter the pages of an Urban Outfitter’s catalog, but they are not burdened by fashionable attire. They scamper like nymphs through the woods, run in naked herds across highways, bathe in waterfalls, and go spelunking in the buff. It truly is a fantasy life, embodying the free-love, anything goes mentality that was the cliché of the sixties.

I am conflicted. Should I indulge? Is it okay, even for a moment, to imagine myself as one of McGinley’s models living within the confines of his ridiculously contrived, nonsensical utopia? I will have to mull it over. However, there are few things about You and I that are not okay. Contributing writer Sylvia Wolfe compares You and I to Larry Clark’s Tulsa! She also compares McGinley to Nan Goldin! How could one possibly compare the tragedy of Tulsa or The Ballad of Sexual Dependency to McGinley’s latest frivolous photographic endeavor? McGinley casts his sitters for a specific aesthetic and half way through the summer his original bunch is replaced by a new set of fresh recruits. One might describe his work as refreshing because on the surface it seems spontaneous or exhilarating, but it absolutely does not possess the gravity of Clark’s or Goldin’s work.

McGinley is a master of the snapshot aesthetic and he cleverly uses this approach to seduce his audience with a childlike vernacular. He has let go of the camera in a way that makes us care when we shouldn’t. At times, he pre-exposes his film to different types of light to achieve stunning color shifts. His compositions seem deliberate, but only to the point where one must assume he isn’t shooting blindfolded. He has shot thousands of rolls of film over the past six summers. After carefully sifting through more than a half-decade worth of work, McGinley has delivered You and I. But he has not delivered you and I from anything we haven’t already seen before.

The book is beautifully printed and McGinley’s images are reproduced in striking color. Containing over 100 pages of images, it is well designed and bound. I recommend this book because it will take you to an imaginary place that most of us have never been. More than anything it will make you envious of the man behind the camera.


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Daniel W. Coburn is a photographer and graduate student at the University of New Mexico.
To view Daniel's photography, please visit his website. Daniel was featured in Fraction Issue 20.
Follow Daniel on Twitter : @danielwcoburn