School of Art, Media, and Technology

Former Parsons Student Ryan McGinley’s BFA Photo Commencement Speech on

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Former Parsons Student Ryan McGinley’s speech at the BFA Photography Commencement was covered in his words of wisdom:

“By my fourth year in school, I was shooting every day and every night. I photographed every little thing—all my food, doorways covered in graffiti, and my friends and roommates. I tortured my first boyfriend, Marc, by capturing each moment of our relationship. I was obsessed with documenting my life. So that’s my advice to you: Find something to be obsessed with, and then obsess over it. Don’t compete; find what’s uniquely yours. Take your experience of life and connect that with your knowledge of photographic history. Mix it all together, and create an artistic world that we can enter into.”


“Be busy. Seek and find a way to do what it is you want to do. Identify what that thing is and do it. Don’t stand around too long having conversations about it. Do it. Refine it. Do it more. Try it a different way. Keep at it until you break through to the next level. Don’t talk or think yourself out of doing it. Put one foot in front of the other and let it happen organically.”

“I realized I could make intimate pictures of strangers. It was a breakthrough for me. I found that most people liked being photographed; they like being paid attention to and being told to do things they normally wouldn’t do. I learned that all I needed to do was ask.”


“Say yes to almost everything and try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to work hard. Do your pictures—don’t try and do somebody else’s pictures. Don’t get lost inside your head, and don’t worry what camera you’re using.”

“I once heard the legendary indie director Derek Jarman had three rules for making his art films: ‘Show up early, hold your own light, and don’t expect to get paid.’ That always stuck with me. Approach art like it’s your job. Show up for photography every day for eight hours. Take it as seriously as a doctor would medicine.”


“Remember, it’s romantic as hell what we do.”

“Take photos of everything. If you are working hard—really hard—opportunity will come. And when it does, you better be ready for it with your camera in hand.”

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