by Dmitry Komis, whitehot magazine, New York
Irregular Regulars, Ryan McGinley’s new body of work at Team Gallery, is a triumphant validation of McGinley’s summative talent and definitive point of view. The New York-based photographer’s 2003 Whitney solo show, The Kids are Alright, documented friends and lovers in various scenes of blissful, unadulterated freedom. With his new work, McGinley limits himself to a specific experience, attending Morrissey rock concerts.
Taken over the span of two years, these photographs document the artist’s travels with the singer, photographing various shows across the land. Working within the commercial genre of the concert snapshot, McGinley, a long time Morrissey fan himself, distances himself from the stale rock iconography and macho posturing seen in most contemporary music magazines today. Instead, as in Untitled (Morrissey 25), 2006, there is an ease and alert casualness in these works that recalls the enthusiasm of sports photography.
Although allowed full access to document the tour, Morrissey the individual seldom appears in the photographs, and if he does, he remains partially hidden. McGinley is not so much interested in revealing the mythology behind his musical hero as capturing what drives the millions of fans to pilgrimage to shows after shows, hearing virtually identical sets, all with the common objective of worshipping their idol.
McGinley, getting accustomed to the repetitiveness of Morrissey’s setlists, looks to the audience’s unhinged expressions for the authentic flavor of each concert. One finds scenes of introspection, spontaneity, and sheer hysteria. Although photographing strangers, and often at a distance, McGinley captures the audience members with the same sensitivity and unaffectedness of his earlier works, finding equally candid moments of adolescent intensity.
An avid proponent of natural lighting, McGinley here relies on the stage lights for each show (as selected by Morrissey) and combines them with his experimental technique of exposing the film to various light sources prior to shooting. The produced effect is a partly coincidental kaleidoscopic bombardment of magenta, blue, green, and yellow that bathes figures in rays of LSD-hazed sunshine. Particularly when showing the collective wave of a crowd throwing its hands in the air, as in Untitled (Morrissey 16), 2006 and Untitled (Morrissey 3), 2006, the effect is mesmerizing. McGinley shows a flair for finding repetition and cohesion in a crowded space, which at a Morrissey concert often takes on a transcendent force, uniting a crowd of strangers in a shared emotional experience.
In Untitled (Morrissey 1), 2006, which dominates the back room of the gallery, McGinley himself is shown being evicted from the stage after attempting to embrace the singer. The artist becomes complicit in the ritualistic experience that he is there to photograph; yet the second-hand documentation of this act (taken by an audience member) simultaneously positions McGinley as an outsider looking in. In this image the photographer reenacts the passion of his fellow audience members and emerges as just another fan.
McGinley’s photographs have always been about happiness and playful disobedience, eschewing judgment, irony or clichéd teenage angst. These new works relay a heartfelt nostalgia, for Morrissey of old (new Morrissey seems to be channeling late Elvis these days) and the reckless abandon of youth. The energy in these photographs is so palpable, the mood so unabashedly joyous, that the spirit becomes contagious.
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Dmitry Komis is a freelance writer and independent curator living
in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org