Ryan McGinley – Jeans Photographer

From the sad but true and kinda funny category:
Levi’s is debuting an new advertising campaign shot by Ryan McGinley that looks very similar to a print campaign for Wrangler also shot by Mr. McGinley that just won the top prize at Cannes. Read about it over on Creative Review (here).

ryan-mcginley

I’d say it’s a case of two jeans companies who are completely out of touch with the american youth who both saw, I Know Where the Summer Goes last summer .

There Are 72 Comments On This Article.

  1. This makes me feel all sunny inside.

    Hire a hack who knows how to do one thing badly, and you will get endless repetition of one bad thing. This isn’t rocket science, people.

    • Donnar Party

      @MarcW, I think your comment is unfair. He’s not a hack. He shoots a certain style, they hired him for that style, he gave them what they asked for. Robert Wright’s comment below is right on, but I respect Ryan McG. because he is keeping it real. This is what he shoots, for personal work, for commerce. This really is who he is. He IS a hipster, a genre lifestyle model with a bloody nose. This is not an act.

      • @Donnar Party,

        To the extent that “hack” implies that McGinley doesn’t deliver what he promises – which to me, it doesn’t, but just to be clear – he is certainly not a hack. I did not mean to imply in any way that he was deceptive or dishonest.

        When I refer to McGinley as a “hack,” I mean that I see absolutely no talent in his work, nor any skill, nor even any range. He’s a snapshooter who happened to capture a commercially viable portion of the zeitgeist.

        Good on him – I’d rather be lucky than good any day. But Levi’s and Wrangler knew what they were getting and they got it. I don’t see why either of them would be surprised that anything they hire him to shoot is going to look exactly like everything everybody else hires him to shoot.

        Also, one of us didn’t understand Mr. Wright’s comment very well. Could be me, could be you. But I don’t read it the way you do.

        • @MarcW, well I’ll split the difference-no one understands me:)

          I think it is both. He has great talent in my opinion, and makes the pictures he wants to make. There is an enormous amount of borrowing going on, but this is intentional. It’s not necessarily about originality. There is parody, nostalgia, blatant commercialism, a walloping dose of magic realism, excessive navel gazing, optimism, cynicism, its all there. It’s either naive or innocent depending on your point of view. I think it speaks volumes about our culture, how we manufacture our realism or pose as a way of dealing/escaping.

          So to bend the genre of advertising lifestyle photography with a little 70’s nudism and magic realism and produce “art” is no different from producing art and bending it to commercial adaptation. Photography has always had this capacity for propaganda.

          • @Mr. Wright,

            About his talent, we will have to agree to disagree, although I readily concede that you have far more experience and authority behind your evaluation.

            About the rest, all I can think of is a quote from a very learned philosopher who once said, “The problem with being avant-garde is knowing who’s putting on who.”

              • @Mr. Wright,

                Oh, no! Even I am not that naive. :)

                I do not begrudge him his success, I do not think that people shouldn’t pay him whatever they think his services are worth, and if people think he is the second coming of Diane Arbus, or Andy Warhol, or whatever, that is their opinion, no better and no worse than mine.

                I simply found it funny that anybody would be surprised that his work for Jeans Company B would be more or less the same as he did for Jeans Company A and pretty much everything else he does. The rest was editorializing and as always, the editor’s opinion is worth what you pay for it. :)

          • Donnar Party

            @robert wright, I agree, and thank you for such an elegant statement. I would say that I think it is neither naive nor innocent. I don’t think many image makers are naive or innocent, everything done in these PostModern times (or post-post modern times)is done knowingly. I think he does what he does with full knowldge of the “parody, nostalgia, blatant commercialism, a walloping dose of magic realism, excessive navel gazing, optimism, cynicism”, but without irony.

    • @MarcW,

      How can you fault the photog for doing his thing? The fault rests with the agency who decided to hire the exact same guy for their jeans client.

      Talk about unoriginal thinking on the agency’s part. Or Levi’s part. I can see how that meeting went down..

      Levi’s: “Hey these wrangler ads are what we like, can we hire that guy too?”
      Agency: “Are you sure you want to do that? It’s going to look like a knock off of the wrangler ads”
      Levi’s: “huh.”

      • @craig,

        I don’t. My Amusement is entirely centered on Levi’s choice and the results thereof. McGinley may be, in my opinion, a hack, but I have no reason to think he is not an honest, or even a hardworking, hack.

  2. I’d say its a case of two advertising agencies exploiting the fact that McGinley’s “work” is essentially lifestyle genre photography, with bloodier noses. Or maybe it is genre bending, hommage, pastiche, post modern or whatever. It is tailor made for selling.

    On a side note, I can accept that Ralph Lauren probably has ranch or two. I am sure he can ride horses too. But do you think he does any actual “ranching” like the photos attest?

    Hipster is the new american cowboy.

  3. Apparently the emperor is still nekid.
    Who is buying this schtick? Youth or the CDs?
    The pretention of fashionista/art narcism has become predictable and boring.
    Start with skin, add one part genderbender, one part innuendo, and two parts 4 year old. Sautee lightly with saffron. Serve warm… hook, line & sinker.

    • @Bob,

      Anything to get another few seconds of eyeball time. If the CD’s think this is how Youth lives or wants to live, then into the product it goes.

      I myself have no opinion as to the “reality,” or lack thereof, of McGinley’s work. I’m 39, and even when I was 19, I was never hip. I am now so far out of It that the light leaving It will not reach me for several years. Whether the scenes he pictures are how the Cool Kids live, I have no idea.

      All I know is that his photographs are, to use a technical term, crap. If, by some odd vaguery of Fate, something his clients advertised was something I wanted, I would actively avoid that brand. The only thing I *am* sure about is that my money won’t be missed, but it’s all I have to vote with.

      Well, that and snarky Internet posts.

  4. Good for McGinley that these people hire him to shoot the exact same stuff for a nice fee.

    really lame on the part of the Levis for being so unoriginal. I bet Wrangler is pissed. they probably won’t hire McGinley again.

  5. Donnar Party

    Wasn’t the Wrangler campaign for Europe? Different market than the Levi’s campaign? I wonder how many people, aside from industry people, will see both campaigns.

  6. Well I am surprised, his commercial work is even more boring than his art work. Real? Why YES!

    Oh well. He’s making money and I’m writing this for free. I’ll bet he’s out in the Hamptons right now enjoying the fruits of his labor. Damn. Lucky him.

    Right place, right time, right people to notice… trumps hard work and talent both every time. Guess the world isn’t fair after all, is it?

    Back to toiling in obscurity for me!

  7. Photographers who spend time writing that people are hacks or untalented because they aren’t super technical are boring.

    • @johann,

      Maybe… but how about just a little technical?

      Or perhaps he is the Gary Winogrand of his time?

      It may sometimes seem harsh, but critique is part of the process.

    • @johann,
      I’d agree. Ryan McGinley is really about content over technique. His photos have a style that comes from a technique but that’s not the main point. There are a milion technicaly proficint photographers out there with no ideas, attitude or individual flair and their work is very tedious exercises in technical boredom. If I had to choose between content and technique I’d choose content anyday.

    • @johann,

      The look of his photographs being not technically accurate is his look. It’s nostalgic, lovely, innocent and sexual all at the same time. You are right.

      He wasn’t in the right place at the right time to get these campaigns, as some photographers are guessing. The brand wanted his look- and probably for good reasons.

      I’ve been reading the Huffingtonpost lately, and there is a story about NY billboards, with sexy jeans/fashion ads. They are blatantly sexual, lit slick, with high fashion models, all in various states of undress. We’ve all seen it done a million times.

      McGinley’s ads look nothing like that, and make the brand pop amoung the competition. It is a clever placement of things being toned down and simple, un techinical, and nostalgic in a time when many people are longing for the past and better times.

      Not sure why you’d hire the same photographer as your competitor, however, when you compare the fashion billboards all over NYC that are on the Huffingtonpost, they were probably shot by different photographers, but may as well have been shot by the same one.

  8. Steven Rood

    As an art director, I look at this and wonder how Weiden + Kennedy didn’t know about McGinley shooting the Wrangler campaign. Seems to me his rep should have disclosed this. The art buyer should have known for sure and said something to the creatives. But oh well.

    If anything it’s just another example of everyone wanting to use a hot photographer while he/she is hot. Happens all the time in advertising. I remember bidding Dennis Manarchy for jobs along with everyone else and their mother back in the early 90s when he was the flavor du jour.

    For what it’s worth, I think both campaigns are crap. Seems to me both agencies took a long walk away from the core brand of these companies. I really don’t think that jeans synonymous with Americana or cowboy culture are the recommend of the androgynous, gender-bending, half-naked frolicking youth of today. If there is such a demographic. If anything, Abercrombie & Fitch would have been a better fit for these campaigns.

    As a photographer, I look at McGinley’s work and think Terry Richardson 2.0.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • @Steven Rood,
      McGinley has more beauty than Richardson. I can see the similar vein but Richardson is very brash and harsh. I find McGinley’s work much more nostalgic and touching.

      • Steven Rood

        @Adam,

        Well, that’s why I said version 2.0 – but I see your point and will agree. Mona Kuhn also comes to mind. But I like her work better. Sorry Ryan, no offense.

  9. William M.

    The funny thing about these postings is that no one seems to know that – the wrangler campaign is a year and half old. Everyone is talking like they just came out today. Also – it’s funny to no one brought up the fact that any of the big fashion photographers who work for 10 brands at the same time – usually all look the same. Why is it a point of interest that two jeans brands shot a year and half apart by the same photographer is of any interest at all. Not to mention that i love Ryan’s work – always have and i think it’s a great thing that it’s reaching a wider audience and he’s moved on to an american brand like Levis. Good for both Levis and Ryan.

  10. I agree with the above campaign. has Bruce Webber’s photography ever looked different for any of the countless brands he works for? Or Avedon, or Newton or Sims.. that’s sort of the point isn’t it? I think if brands can find new ways to make a photographers asthetic work for them – good for them.

  11. This thread, the comments, context of the adverts, along with the style of images brings to mind the thoughts of two writers.

    Jean Baudrillard (Simulacra and Simulations, 1981)

    A specific analogy that Baudrillard uses is a fable derived from On Exactitude in Science by Jorge Luis Borges. In it, a great Empire created a map that was so detailed it was as large as the Empire itself. The actual map grew and decayed as the Empire itself conquered or lost territory. When the Empire crumbled, all that was left was the map. In Baudrillard’s rendition, it is the map that people live in, the simulation of reality, and it is reality that is crumbling away from disuse.

    “The transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks the decisive turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy (to which the notion of ideology still belongs). The second inaugurates an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgement to separate truth from false, the real from its artificial resurrection, since everything is already dead and risen in advance. ”

    “Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.”
    – Jean Baudrillard

    “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.”
    – Oscar Wilde

    • Donnar Party

      @Bob, Ecco as well. Ryan’s work is fantasy, filled with signs and symbols, a sort of reification of an ideal that does not exist as anything more than a mood, a general leaning, and he has excellent teeth.

      • @Donnar Party,

        You may read it however you wish, George. A critic or fan can up-sell almost anything. I don’t see anything special here. I see the emperor’s clothes, self absorption, ….

        Read my first post at face value. Then factor in the second post as a comment on the culture of which I believe this is embedded. In fact all the hype and preoccupation with the images tends to support the self-referential narcissistic aspects of our culture and this work.

        Do you really think his work is a mature informed commentary on our culture? Or is he just as caught up in the theories these philosophers present as his fans?

        • Donnar Party

          @Bob, if the work were mature it would be different. It is zeitgeist, like Mad Men but without the Danish Modern sets. Its a nostalgia for something fantastical, self absorbed, sexual w/o being vulger, an ideal of what the youngins (at least young, white people in the West) dream about when they sleep. So yes, it is commentary, even if its just a realization of communnal desires of a certain demographic. But look, he’s no Penn, no diCorcia, no Avedon, but he is someone. Remember, he isn’t even 30.

          • @Donnar Party,

            The threads on this blog have a half life shorter than fresh baked bread, so I don’t know if anyone is still reading…

            I’ve taken a few days to really think about the work. Maybe I am missing something. So I took a step back and looked for other ways of seeing. What are others seeing (or seeing into) these images that I may have missed?

            Context is important. The advertising usage as well as the art/fashion interest is very typical. Nothing new, referencing much of my earlier take. Here’s where I see a rift. For a conscious artist, one would think understanding context to be important. Pictorially these images reference cliche methods of communication often used and consumed widely in the genres referenced. But I don’t see much new added – or unique “commentary” created. Instead the images play up easy visual devices commonly employed. The artist would certainly have awareness of how our culture consumes some of the themes he employs. Are we amazed with his fortuity? (His work just happens to fit into fashion/advertising media so well :) ).

            Had these images been done in a world which did not already have such a strong history (context) of use, I would see these images as brilliant. Instead, I see the artist just caught up in common consumer aesthetics. Witness the world we live within. Is the latest celebrity train wreck acting out a commentary, or just caught up in these times? That guy driving the car in a high speed chase, commandeering all network channel coverage – is he an artist? Is the media event of the chase his “commentary”? There is something amazing to behold here, but it is not an artist’s commentary. More the phenomena of how the -homogenized- consumer culture functions today.

            An additional thought. Are the people posting here energized by the *artist* or by the cultural/industry context? Certainly the artist can ride along with this wave of interest and cash in, but is he the main focus of the interest as has been suggested?

        • @Bob,
          Self-absorption? I don’t know how anyone can be a photographer and not be self-absorbed to a degree. The whole point of being a photographer is to show others your view of the world, in a way that is completely yours, and you have to be absorbed into oneself to do that with any kind of gusto.

          If his work were mature it would be boring. The interest is in it’s youth.
          .

      • Andre Friedmann

        @Donnar Party,
        Never underestimate the importance of excellent teeth.
        Excellent teeth are an extremely important “marker” of economic class in American society. We use this marker to sort out those who belong in the conference room (because their parents were wealthy enough to afford orthodontia) from those who do not belong (because their parents were poor or working class).
        Never underestimate this marker.

  12. @MarcW and maybe others

    why do you say mcginley’s work it crap ‘technically’? i really don’t get what you mean. to me they are sort of regular photos with mostly natural light (or only) and appear to be sharply focused with nice color, etc. does that make them crap?!

    he appears to me to be fine at the actual operation of a camera…i’m curious to hear your explanation.

    • Donnar Party

      @brad, there is nothing wrong witrh Ryan’s “technique”. Not to speak for others who deride his “technical” abilities, I suppose its because its not strobed out, beauty dish a stop hotter than the sky, MUA’d, over styled, and over retouched, with even horizens. Oh, its also not digital, which seems to piss people off.

    • Steven Rood

      @brad,

      I wouldn’t call his technique crap. But it’s definitely Lo-Fi. A movement that’s existed amongst surf photogs for the past several years and growing in popularity. Old film cameras, grain, light-leaks, dutch angles, cross-processing and no telephoto. Meant to be a more “real” and “authentic” way of looking at the world with a camera. And it doesn’t surprise me that this look is spreading into the world of fashion angst.

  13. Actually, what I think is noteworthy and mediocre about the Levis campaign is how transparent and contrived the copy & concept are.

    I mean “I am the new American pioneer, looking forward, never back. No longer content to wait for better times…” ???? Blah blah blah blah blah. Come on. Crapola.

    Big props for Ryan for doing what he does and getting paid for it. 99% of the photographers on this blog couldn’t say the same thing. I guess that’s why we don’t see a lot of names on the comments linked to ICP, Levis, or Cannes Lions, except for those Cannes winners who are commenting anonymously.

      • @Steven Rood,

        Sorry. No offense intended, but you’re not as established as Ryan (and neither am I and neither is Rob, even).

        I forgot to mention before: how many people posting here have had solo shows at the Whitney?

  14. the heated discussions here are proof that Ryan is establishing himself firmly.

    What he does is actually very hard to do, although it looks so easy. Try it and see if you can come up with something close.

    I dont get the point about exploitation though at all. I think Ryans work always has looked like lifestyle photography and I mainly saw him as an advertising photographer right from the beginning.

  15. With all due respect to Ryan and his “contributions” to the photo world, every time I look at his “work” I feel like I am looking at something that someone for got to finish. I do think he has a lot of talent and potential I just don’t feel he reaches for it with work of this caliber. His ideas are excellent, maybe even borderline brilliant but his execution of the idea just seems to fall flat. I hated this macabre campaign the first time I saw it and I hate it now.

  16. The point is if these pics and his work generate so much hate and love he’ s definitely doing something good, he’s getting your attention and that is the most important thing.

  17. I think McGinley’s work is good. What I can’t stand is all the overly Photoshopped BS that is so prevalent at the moment. In my humble opinion that stuff is just horrible.

    • @Rob Hann, I would agree wholely with that statement…it simply is shit…Photo illustration not photography.It’s fucking obvious,predictable and empty.Too many nerds who spend more time in bridge and not enough time out in someones face…

  18. Others have mentioned it before, it doesn’t matter much if the photos are similar (other photographers/brands/product categories do it all the time). But hasn’t anyone noticed that the Wrangler and Levis are actually two very similar companies? I mean, blue jeans, come on, we’re talking about an extremely generic product here.

  19. How do you know when the photos are even his or when they are taken by one of his many assistants who shoot the whole time? Maybe you really like Ryan’s work but don’t like assistant B’s photos. hmmm.

    • @TO,

      Leonardo Davinci didn’t paint most of his own paintings.

      Nor did most of the other renaissance artists.

      Does anyone pay attention to who’s behind the camera in movies? no, its the director…

      this is why art direction tends to get more respect than the crew carrying it out…

  20. Looks like Wieden and Kennedy have this campaign. I just saw a B/W commercial with a similar style treatment. If this link works, have a view:

    http://creativity-online.com/work/view?seed=488e9e5c

    It is on Creativity, if anyone here is a subscriber. Different director and team, but the creative direction matches the still campaign.

    I will be going to a seminar with Dan Wieden in early August. If I get a chance, and remember this, I will ask about the ideas behind the Levi’s campaign.

  21. I haven’t read the other posts but, I don’t need to. McGinley has what most people don’t. He understands that photos are about emotion. about feeling. Technical ability is nothing compared to that. You can be the most techincally capable photog on the planet but, if you can’t deal with people and make them feel comfortable and show emotion you are not providing anything of substance.. You guys criticizing his “snapshot technique” are too focused on technique. Look beyond the technique. Technique is just a tool. people and expression are what really matter. and I would say McGinley is expressing himself pretty well.

  22. I think we can all agree that McGinley is true to himself; his work reflects what he owns. While I can say that I don’t much like the style, I can also say that I think he does a good job pulling emotion from his viewers; that alone reflects his talent.

    I believe the two campaigns are way too close to forge unique brand messages. For my money, the image style fits Levi’s better than Wrangler but that’s just my opinion.

  23. This is every photographer’s wet dream. Sign on to shoot an ad campaign which is essentially your style but with product placement. Cash the check. Do it all over again. Are you kidding me? Don’t even try to tell me like all of you wouldn’t be doing the exact same thing if you could!

    Am I the only one who is not going to lose any sleep thinking if wrangler or levis got ripped off and about their brand identity? Who fucking cares. I’m not even a big fan of his work, but come on, stop crying like little kids. If you hate it so much, go do a better job.

  24. Robert P

    “We are animals”

    because we go swimming with our jeans on? Why the hell would you take off all your clothes *except your jeans, if you wanted to go jump in a lake. I mean, that would be all cold when you came out. And it’s raining.

    “We are idiots”

    “We have colds”

    >
    The Wrangler campaign looks a lot darker to me, and ignoring the similarity of “cute young people with no tops on” are not as similar as I was expecting from the comments.

    http://hypebeast.com/2009/06/ryan-mcginley-for-wrangler-ad-campaign/

    http://fashionindie.com/ad-dict-levis-go-forth-by-ryan-mcginley/

    RDP

  25. … there’s only ONE photographer out there who can do jeans ???

    A good completion to the post on Red cams …
    For sure you need xxx MP equipment to get advertising jobs :-)

    Sometimes all you need is a pinhole (someone who believes in your work/style may help a bit *smile)

    Maybe Wrangler shoud strike back and hire Nadav Kander for their next campaign …

    cheers

  26. Clearly I need to start taking more naked snapshots of my friends! (With my point-and-shoot pocket camera that I always carry and regularly use.*) Except my friends are probably twice as old as Ryan McGinley’s friends, so on second thought, maybe that wouldn’t work out for me…

    (*Just like some photographers use their iPhones. Except for some reason a photographer using his/her iPhone to take snapshots is considered “revolutionary” whereas using a point-and-shoot is somehow considered cheating or, at the very least, not revolutionary.)

  27. I personally think the Wrangler campaign was much more interesting. And darker, to its benefit. But come on. If you’re critical because a photographer applied the same style to 2 different campaigns then take a look a round for shits sake. And the fact that it’s Levis vs. Wrangler isn’t Ryan’s fault. I think the pictures are different enough anyway and don’t forget the average consumer (i.e. non photo geek) isn’t going to notice anyway. Because who the fuck is Ryan McGinley to most people?

  28. ididntasktobeborn

    I hate Ryan McGinley. He got famous because he partied in NYC when he was young and going to Parsons, and he shot heroine with the right people.

    His work is not an honest depiction of his “worth”. He is not the “hipster” or the archetype subculture “cool kid” he makes you think he is. He grew up in New Jersey from a pretty well off family.

    THIS IS THE FACT:
    He is a 30-something man who admits to not even knowing how to use a manual camera. He uses a point and shoot to take pictures of 18 year olds who he pays THOUSANDS of dollars with money he made shooting commercial ads for products like Dentyne Ice. He makes his models take photos, too, and everyone puts their film into the same bag at the end of the day.

    AND WHAT THE FUCK IS MOONMILK ANYWAY?