Hey again. It’s me. Bill Benson.
I know I already sent you a couple letters and called a couple times and there was that incident where your secretary thought I was threatening you or something but I’m serious, we need to talk. I just moved into my comfy new office at the Dig and the first thing that came across my desk was your new photo book Whistle in the Wind (240 pages; Rizzoli New York, 2012).
Look, Ryan, I really tried not to like it. Hard. I’d stiffen up and close my eyes and scrunch up my face and try to just force the hatred out of me. I wanted to hate it because a lot of your work is a starry-eyed advertisement for being young, and I’m anything but young anymore. I wanted to hate it because it costs $55. I wanted to hate it because Rizzoli sent me a press release calling you “one of the most celebrated artists of the 21st century,” which is a pretty pompous thing to say about a dude who’s only 34 in a century that’s only 12.
Especially when that dude admittedly captures “the hedonistic adventures of youth culture … but without the dark underbelly of earlier artists who mined similar themes.” I’m sorry, Rizzoli, without the dark underbelly? What the hell good is art without a dark underbelly?
All the same, hating Whistle in the Wind just didn’t work. I kept flipping to page 50 where the naked lady is holding a hawk or some shit. Ryan, I love birds. Especially when they’re held by naked women. But you know this. Or at least your secretary does.
So here’s what I think of your book: it’s beautiful, radiant, sharp, fresh, innovative, and completely fucking bullshit. It’s like a highlight reel of being in your early 20s. It’s nostalgic, but nostalgic about the present, a present that by the way never existed for anybody without a corresponding helping of bad shit. But you don’t show bad shit. You don’t care. You’re all all glitter and rimjobs. You’re all sunshine and fields and summertime.
Ryan, I like you because you rebel against the gravity that pop culture forces unto “hedonism,” that notion that everybody who gets high must come down, that rule that shotgunning vermouth in my office with Giggly Larry is just bound to lead to something bad. Youth lasts forever, you tell us in photos. Or more aptly: Youth doesn’t last forever, but these photos will, and they’re making me a ton of money.
All the same, I don’t buy Rizzoli’s bullshit. Sorry Ryan, you’re not even in the top ten of modern artists of the 21st century thus far. But you’re not bad. I just hope you grow, expand, learn, bloom. I hope McGinley as we know him is the tip of what comes next.
And Ryan? Don’t feel bad. You, me, Rizzoli, we all lie. I don’t have any fancy office at the Dig — hell, most days they won’t even take my calls. When I said “comfy new office” what I really meant was “a corner of the park where I openly weep at lunchtime.”
Bill Benson is the former manager of Galaxy Bowling Lanes in Decatur, Illinois. He likes to read.