As a restless creative force, Ryan McGinley’s photography chronicles his own generation as no artist before him had. Known for his casual snapshot style, irreverent approach and hedonistic portrayal of youth, he created a poignant testament to all things innocent and adventurous. The first book to examine McGinley’s early, documentary-style photographs and Polaroids from 1998 to 2003, The Kids Were Alright, serves as a classic portrait of this moment in time.
Gravitating to street culture early on, McGinley surrounded himself with a band of self-proclaimed “outsiders”: skateboarders, club kids, graffiti artists, queer-identified youths and indie musicians. Always with a camera in his hands, he saw the streets of downtown New York as a canvas and stage, documenting the antics and daily activities of himself, his friends and lovers. What began as candid shots of his friends’ lifestyle are now seen as iconic snapshots of his generation that reveal a current condition of youth.
Portraying a group of young people experiencing a period of exploration, openness and freedom just before adulthood, McGinley captures the quintessential notion of youth testing the boundaries of life. Ranging from edgy, nasty and disturbing to playful and intimate, his images capture the entire range of activities and emotions of a group of friends at particular times in their lives. We see the photographer and his friends hanging out, raving, getting high, skinny dipping, kissing, having sex, sleeping, running, failing and getting in trouble, all in hedonistic abandon, exuberance and rebellion.
Unstaged and unedited, McGinley’s photographs paint a powerful portrait that is as candid as it is crude. Blending his art with his life and erasing distinctions between personal and public, the photographer exposed himself entirely, making himself completely vulnerable.
Published to accompany an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, The Kids Were Alright refers to his first solo show, self-organized in 2000 inside an abandoned warehouse in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. The book also features a critical essay by the curator Nora Burnett Abrams, an in-depth conversation between McGinley and artist Dan Colen, and a range of first person reminiscences from many of his subjects and social circle at the time.
Ryan McGinley’s The Kids Were Alright can be purchased from Rizzoli for $55 in hardcover.
All works by Ryan McGinley, courtesy of the artist and Rizzoli © Ryan McGinley. Images include Having Sex (Polaroids), 1999; Dan (Bloody Eye), 2002; Fireworks, 2002; Red Mirror, 1999; Lizzy, 2002; and Sniffing & Smoking, 1999.