Ryan McGinley investigates the power of the camera in reflecting pieces of identity

Text by: Fiammetta Cesana

Living in a well-rounded mediated time – where the line between appearing and living is increasingly blurrier – the act of immortalizing ourselves through a camera is essential to construct our identity(-ies). Photographic self-portraits turn to be the representation of how we want people to think of us, aesthetically and emotionally. With that “easy” click we are entitled to marginalize what we don’t appreciate of ourselves, or better, what we believe that the others wouldn’t appreciate of our body as well as of our personality. It is not that easy actually… but it requires both anthropological and psychological effort. 

We end up to be in room of mirrors… where our image has suddenly multiplied alongside our identity, where we are no longer alone in staring at us, but we are on an imaginary, or perhaps so frightfully real, public stage. External lenses have become our inner judges. Now we have to constantly look around, see how we appear at every angle, and never lose sight of those who is observing us. In that room there is only one way to still feel in control of ourselves: to make up our mind and select which sides of us to hide. 

The photographer Ryan McGinley has been able to reproduce this filtered reality by letting several characters to get portrayed by themselves for his project “Mirror, Mirror”. The subjects – male, female, old, young, heterosexual and homosexual – were provided with a camera, 35mm film rolls and 20 mirrors. They took pictures of themselves, naked, totally free to choose the angles and so what to show and what to hide of their body. Then, the undeveloped films were sent back to the photographer who chose one picture to represent each person. 

It resulted in a series of self-made portraits exploring how contemporary identities are constantly and integrally mediated through photographic lenses. Looking at it, we can acknowledged the way each subject is unique in selecting his/her image for the public, but how they are all equal in allowing the camera to screen them. Some attempt to protect their nudity and the feelings raised by picturing themselves like this, other instead look completely self-confident in showing their body nonchalantly, regardless their gender, age, body shape, race or sexual orientation… But the question is: to what extent we can be free and, above all, carefree in shaping our image conscious of being judged by the others? To what extent is the pictured us the real us?

The real social talent today seems to make look spontaneous what is fully constructed… An attitude that turns to be relevant also at psychological level, since we can convince ourselves too to be the person we took pictures of. 

The diversity of personalities and ages analyzed through “Mirror, Mirror” is a novelty for McGinley artistic research. He indeed used to capture images of the reckless youth, from the early snapshot work, the road trip photographs, his work with human and animal models, his studio black and whites, to his “Yearbook” endeavor. 

His works have been exhibited in several major galleries, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and PS1 in New York, GAMeC in Bergamo, MUSAC in León, FOAM in Amsterdam and the Kunsthalle Vienna. 

Mirror, Mirror
Team Gallery, New York
From June 29 to September 29, 2018