A few years ago, noted photographer Ryan McGinley was in search of a collaborative challenge, so he asked more than a hundred of his friends to take self portraits — naked. Each subject was given detailed instructions and a camera with the goal of producing images that would be, in some ways, cousins of the now-ubiquitous selfie with a key difference: those pictured would not get to see their photos before they clicked the shutter. The experiment yields intimate and psychologically-revealing pieces; some hilariously witty, some quietly introspective, some ferociously confrontational, some even presenting a sense of despair.
Many of these nudes are bold and straightforward — presenting every wrinkle and fold, displaying the dimensions of each private part, representing an exceptional variety of body types. Others seem carefully constructed to play tricks on the eyes using combinations of mirrors or props to mask portions of the anatomy as aggressively as a bit from an Austin Powers film. Though McGinley did not click the shutters that took these photos, the fact that he invited the subjects, crafted the instructions and made the final selections from among the submitted images may account for their emotional depth and resonance, they feel like his work. “I began this project with an eye toward exploring new ways of seeing the human body,” McGinley explains. “I wanted something that included playfulness and creative problem solving with an emphasis on photographic exploration.” And, in that, he most certainly succeeds.
Ryan McGinley: Mirror Mirror
By Ryan McGinley; Rizzoli Electa; $39.95
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Last modified: November 7, 2019