Last Sunday the New York Times Magazine featured a brilliant photo portfolio of actors that appears to be the antidote to the Vanity Fair treatment. Shot entirely by Ryan McGinley, in a spare but cohesive style, it surprisingly holds together nicely for 28 pages. I think their attempt to wrestle the Hollywood photoshoot beast away from its recent hyper-produced overwrought incarnation is a welcome relief.

You may be surprised to see that they got Ryan past the actors handlers given his easily googled (here) colorful past (FYI, if you want to see how you appear to a publicist just google yourself and if you don’t have a section entitled celebrity, forget about it). It’s easier to get unconventional photographers through the gate with the younger actors and a big project like this can act to change the conversation from who the photographer is to who’s in the portfolio. It’s also about trust and Photo Directors like Kathy are usually given a long leash by the publicists for a long history of pairing actors with talented photographers.

Online slideshow of pictures (here), behind the scenes shoot video (here).


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  1. By “hyper-produced overwrought incarnation”, do you mean the style championed by Annie Leibovitz?

  2. Well, I seriously doubt she’s the one doing the championing anymore but sure she’s the most obvious example there’s also, Mark Seliger, David LaChapelle, Martin Schoeller and Norman Jean Roy. It more of a Vanity Fair style of photography in my eyes.

  3. i knew those mega-productions had lost it for me when paging through a VF annual ‘hollywood’ issue a few years ago that had page after page of similar beautifully soft lit interiors with not a hair out of place or a crumb on the floor filled with bored, blank, posed, soulless looks

    …and the ultimate irony was that the best celebrity shot with life and character in the issue was a b&w shot of DeNiro – featured in an advertisement for Amex

  4. to soften my @3 comment a little – i seem to recall that the majority of the shots featured were group shots – a challenge to do at best of times. (where is a wedding photographer when you need one? or don’t they just composite them after the fact nowadays?) ;-)

  5. Many of those Hollywood covers are shot in more than one location and composited later. Also the VF Africa issue – Desmond Tutu and George Bush only whispered to each other in photoshop.

  6. I love this spread! I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it looks like McGinley used a “real” camera for these (not the point and shoot film jobs he usually does), they are so crisp and yet still really moody and lovely.

  7. I remember coming across this guys work a few years back and wondering why people in the photo world had given value to him. But I do like the shot of Marion Cotillard and the second shot of Jennifer Jason Leigh. But then looking at actual prints can be so much more or less.

  8. I remember first seeing him do that Kate Moss story for W. I thought it was great. Was very impressed also with the NYT Mag story, but I know a lot of photogs who discount him to the point of non consideration. I believe they are jealous.

  9. same old R pictures, just insert celebrity. don’t be fooled, these are just as produced, they just look different, one doesn’t just show up at these places with fireworks and smoke machines alone in a field with a celebrity and walk around snapping with a film crew, writers, PR, stylists and whoever the hell else. so yes they look different, and that is a good direction to go in since all magazines secretly aspire to look the same, but you’re all on crack if you think it’s a shift away from overly produced, pre-planned photography. putting a girl in the back of a pick up truck time after time does not equal a revolution. yet, in the case of the aesthetic being different, you are correct, but that’s about as far as it goes, it just looks different, the process is the same, octa banks and photoshop or smoke machines, fireworks and location scouting, it’s quite produced and the same pictures R has made before, just with new people.

  10. Sure, it’s produced… but it’s the feeling… c’mon. The guy did a decent job. The shots stand out… especially compared to what’s been out there as of late. Hell, my photog business partner/ fiance and I both were caught there for a minute, flipping through every shot until the end. If that is the reaction that the images draw, then aren’t they working?

  11. Good post. Picked this issue up yesterday and aside from the quality photo essay, I was more impressed with the writing. Of that group I’ve only seen No Country for Old Men (twice) and Into the Wild. I was amazed at how simply they summed up Hal Holbrook and Josh Brolins parts in their movies. It was dead on. Cool to find that kind of stuff…

  12. I think the video is more lovely even than the pics themselves. and I usually hate the behind the scenes crap and have not been a fan of naked bicycling RM photos.

    a nice antidote to hollywood gloss.

  13. To play off #9, the level of production might be the most impressive thing. Yeah, we know he didn’t just get to take people out in a field and have some fun, but it feels like he did. You could argue against it that it looks just like the work a second-year photo student taking pictures of his friends for an afternoon, but you could also argue for it by saying the same thing.

  14. Now that I’ve watched the shooting video, it’s an even more brilliant application of the same thing. What don’t you see in that video? Pretty much anything. No shooting, for one. No light stands, no publicists, no nothing. You’d think it was just a casual stroll that somehow took him through Florida, Los Angeles, England and others.

  15. Yeah, it always seems to take more production to make it look like you just walked by and snapped one.

  16. agree with robert – the behind the scenes video was way better than the slideshow with the pics.
    and if i got my stuff together none of the performances/ movies/ actors depicted were of the glamour kind. all down to earth.
    so the pairing with the photographer works. at least if the editor was a fan of the early nerve magazine and was able to reduce the rating from R down to G at the same time.

  17. The pictures are beautiful. That’s all there is to say.

  18. I love these photographs.

    There is something about them that captures the actors personality and the character they act out in the film at the same time.

    Perhaps I like these photos because I don’t like mainstream movies where everything is styled and perfect. VF shoots are the same thing as a mainstream movie. Everything is styled and perfect. I’m not talking down what VF does because I enjoy the pictures in the mag every month.


    I like art house films, documentaries. This shoot is following the trend that REAL is in, across the board. More people are watching documentaries for entertainment.

    All the art directors I am talking to want “real”

    I think I heard “I want it to feel real” 6 times today.

    And I’m also hearing my advertising art directors say that they want an editorial look, which is also a trend.

  19. About the comment questioning the use of the Yashica T4 point and shoot – I think he’s still using one here. At least for a lot of them. I have kept one in my camera bag for the last several years and the look is consistent in the spread. A piece of 35mm slide film can scan remarkably well, and the T4 is a great little camera.

    A clever thing about the T4 is that it can be incredibly disarming to a subject. It looks like a camera your mom would have in her purse. When you pull that out of your pocket, the subject will feel less like they are under a microscope and more like they are having fun with friends. That’s McGinley’s whole thing isn’t it?

    I do however think he is photoshopping in the film fog effect he uses. In past projects it looked like he would open the back and fog the film on purpose to random results. I personally love the look, and I can’t knock him if he were to add it in post. When you get a spread like this to shoot, you rely less on serendipity, you do whatever you can to keep get the shot and keep your personal touch on the project, which is why got you hired in the first place.

  20. Usual dumb editorial work, making the same mistake of thinking that if someone is doing something interesting then the photograph will be interesting. ughh.

    give me Judith Joy Ross making these
    now that would be radical commissioning.

  21. I like the photos.
    I also know some other photos of Ryan, and some productions tricks, but seeing that video makes me love the photos more and more.

    About the #6.. and the #20, i´m agree with the last one, i think that sure he still using the T4 or some other p&s camera.. i dont know…

  22. Great work, whatever he used(T4, fog machine, a lamp)it looks great and compare to what’s out there…it looks even better.

  23. I think this spread is great. When I was in art school I made the same kind of work with my Yashica point and shoot camera. Then I heard Ryan McGinley was doing it. And I was stoked that someone was getting recognition for a style of shooting I’d always admired (Nan Goldin-esque). As the years have passed I’ve moved away from that type of portraiture and focus and I like to think my interest in commercial shooting has positively influenced how I shoot now. But I also hope I’ve held on to a bit of that spirit. Ryan obviously has too. These shots are top knotch because they are professional and produced and polished and yet they still reflect his shoot from the hip aesthetic that he’s managed to hold on to successfully, despite being an art star and a commercial shooter as well.

  24. I think the pictures are very good and some are amazing amazing (the Jennifer Jason Leigh and the Paul Dano pix particularly).

    Weirdly, his pictures are closer to my own understanding of the way things look than Inez and Vinoodh, but upon opening the magazine I missed seeing them shoot the issue again. Anyone else have that feeling?

    That said I just looked at the last issue and I think McGinley killed it:

  25. I admire and appreciate the raw immediacy of Ryan’s photos. But isn’t is just that the media savvy pubic )oversaturated by visual ads and tv and games) are tired of the “overproduced” style of fashion and some editorial mags and are ready to replace it with another? Don’t forget “no style” (ie raw, gritty etc) is still a style. It’s similar to how the American public chooses its presidents (except for Bush who wasn’t elected), we get sick of one party then opt for the other

  26. Maybe he also used a T4, but in the photo taken of him on location by NY Times Photo Editor Kira Pollack which appears at the beginning of this issue of the Times Magazine, Ryan has a Leica R around his neck.

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