In 2003, he became the youngest photographer to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York. Now the 34-year-old artist is publishing a career-spanning monograph, Ryan McGinley: Whistle for the Wind (Rizzoli, $55), that showcases his signature images of young people, often unclothed, happily road-tripping across America. Here, McGinley shares a few secrets about his inspirations and working process.
The Secret to Taking a Great Nude Photo
"It's just about creating distractions. I have this girl Brandy who works with me. I call her my hype girl. She talks to people the whole time and gets them hyped-up through music or activities like dancing or jumping on a trampoline."
The Secret to Photographing Someone Famous
"The reason that these celebrities want me to make their portraits is because they like what I do. They want me to make a photograph that looks like one of my friends. The minute that you start approaching it differently, the photographs start suffering."
"I'm always removing whatever is modern in the photographs and just try to simplify it to this really timeless kind of image."
Most Amazing Photo Location
"In 2005, I was in Idaho and my friend brought me into this cave where we had to go through this mountain and get to the other side. It was terrifying. You see pictures of caves, but it's very secret to get directions or access to them. To get to these really amazing places, sometimes you'd have to go two or three miles back into these caves. And it was really dangerous there. By the end it felt like we were like Team Zissou from The Life Aquatic."
"White Sands, New Mexico, has been a place I've gone every year because it's just the most beautiful landscape in the United States. For me, it's almost like shooting in a studio, because all you're working with is white and blue—that's it. The light is amazing."
Ultimate New York Hideout
"Rooftops always feel like you're kind of in your own world. I really like shooting at night, like really late at night. You have a sense that you kind of own the city. I'm down in Chinatown, so you could just hop from rooftop to rooftop. Down here, there's this big old billboard that's not used anymore. I like to climb that and just sit up there and smoke cigarettes."
"Bradford Cox of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound. I'm fascinated by how technically talented he is. When he does his Atlas Sound project, it's just him on stage doing all the parts, and you're just like, 'I cannot believe that somebody is making an entire band and it's just him on stage.' It's a religious experience."
Person Worthy of Admiration
"Bono's a fan of my work and asked me to shoot the campaign for Edun, his fashion brand. Afterward, I traveled to Africa with him to get more involved in his charities. He works with this economist, Jeffrey Sachs, setting up these things called millennium villages, making sure the village has a well for water and schools for the kids. It was amazing to see how regimented his schedule is and how much work he does."
"I'm always down with Larry David. I still watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I still think he's genius. I love the guy so much. He brings my life so much happiness. That's what you want: to get lost in this thing somebody else does that just makes you so happy."
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Q&A: Tattooist Scott Campbell
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