Photos by Josh McNey
Josh McNey grew up in Westlake Village just outside of Los Angeles. He spent seven years in the United States Marine Corps, living out his childhood dreams of shooting guns, jumping out of airplanes and scuba diving, among other things.
He later moved to New York and studied sociology at Columbia University. Josh currently lives and works in New York City where he shoots wrestlers, cowboys, friends, lovers, models and strangers. With no formal training as an artist, Josh still considers himself an avid student of art history and art technique. Much of Josh’s work addresses masculinity and male gender constructs. He lives with his partner Jason, boyfriend Gideon and loyal dog Bosie in a haunted apartment in Lower Manhattan.
1) Rod Stewart’s third album was called Every Picture Tells a Story. Do you think this title applies to your photography? Are you looking for a story within your shoots?
I’m usually looking for pictures that communicate a mood or tone more than a narrative. I think that some of my pictures tell stories or parts of stories, but usually not in the narrative nor the historiographical senses of the word. I’m not trying, as I imagine the way a photojournalist might, to document a story, per se. Through production and direction, I try to create an environment or put myself in situations that I expect will really engage me visually. If I’m excited about what I’m seeing, I’ll probably want to photograph it. Then, through editing and post production, I’m trying to distill the raw material. The selections I make aren’t so much about accurately retelling the story of the shoot as they are about reinterpreting, rephrasing or refining the original material. I try to do it in such a way that the final images will again engage me visually.
2) It seems like every photographer has a story about their first camera. Do you remember your first camera?
I used family cameras while I was growing up but the first camera that I could truly call my own was a Kodak Disc 4000. It was a gift from my parents and I used it until it broke. Regrettably, I didn’t hang on to it. I still have every other camera I’ve owned and I still use almost all of them.
3) How did you start taking photos? When did you realize that photography was something more than a hobby?
I started taking photos as soon as I was allowed to play with cameras. Photography fascinated me almost immediately. I used to photograph and video tape my older brother skating in our driveway and get my younger brothers to pose for Polaroid photos. I really believe that my introduction to photography was through the family photograph. By the end of high school, I had really identified my passion for photography but it would take quite a few years after that before I started trying to make it my profession.
4) “A photo works when you don’t need to explain it.” Do you agree with this statement?
A photograph that sparks discussion is exciting to me. I try to be open to other people’s taste and open to learning new ways to look at a photo. Sure, many of my favorite pictures grabbed me immediately — no translation was required. However, I’ve also gained an appreciation for many photos that didn’t “work” for me right away. Exploring your taste and learning new ways of seeing is for me, one of the great joys of being a visual artist.
5) You have a portrait gallery on your website. Which one is your favourite portrait, and why?
Portraits are, in general, my favorite pictures to make. I really enjoyed meeting RZA. He’s one of my favorite artists and his impact on hip hop is unimpeachable. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with him but I wanted very casual, honest pictures. We shot outdoors in a community park on the Lower East Side, and I was very pleased with the result.
6) You have spent a lot of time photographing college wrestlers. How did that project get started?
I had classes with some of the Columbia University wrestlers when I was going to school there. You could tell that they were a tight knit bunch of guys, something that reminded me of my Marine Corps experience. The first wrestling pictures I took (like my first cowboy pictures) were straight from the TV set. I’d watch a college wrestling tournament on TV and photograph it right from the screen. From there, I contacted coaches, developed relationships and continued to work intermittently on the project over several years.
7) What kind of projects are you working on now?
It looks like 2010 is going to be very exciting for me. I’m getting my new studio set up in Brooklyn, shooting quite a bit of editorial over the next few months and doing pre-production on two special projects. My print sales have started picking up so I’m working with my partner, Jason Costa, to streamline some of the business side of my career. I’m also looking forward to a nice vacation in Mexico. That counts as a project in my book, too.