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Cass Bird
“Untitled”, 2006Photography Cass Bird

This image reveals the morning after the night before

Photographer Cass Bird explains this almost-lost photo, shot in 2006 of hell-raising trio Ryan McGinley, Dan Colen and the late-Dash Snow

Taken from the Janurary 2010 issue of Dazed, as part of the Last Shot archive series

Few American artists this decade have split critical opinion or created as much controversy as the triumvirate of Dan Colen, Ryan McGinley and the late Dash Snow, who died in July 2009. Gaining inspiration by submerging themselves in the darkest corners of New York’s party scene, Snow’s semen-covered photo montages, Colen’s faux-realist paintings and McGinley’s washed-out images have come to define the slacker edge of the late noughties art scene. Here, photographer Cass Bird talks about her intimate early morning shoot with the hell-raising trio.

“I shot this picture at the end of 2006. It seems like a long time ago now. The only person I was familiar with prior to this shoot was Dash. I had met him over at Deitch Projects when I was installing a show and he asked if we could trade prints, which was really sweet. We just hung out in front of the gallery, smoked cigarettes and chatted. A few months after that, I got assigned to do a story on him, Ryan and Dan for New York magazine. 

It’s funny, because the very first time that Ryan took me over to Dash’s house, he wouldn’t let me in! I guess he had forgotten meeting me. So I literally opened the door and peeked in. He recognised me, gave me a hug and was really sweet after that. People talk about how damaged he was, but he didn’t come across like that to me, he came off as really delicate and sincere. That’s how I felt about him. 

“They were in and out of consciousness. It is really cute seeing them like this, they are so comfortable with one another” – Cass Bird

The morning I photographed this picture, Ryan stole Dash’s keys so we could get in after they had all gone out. They weren’t going to leave it to Dash to open up the door at four in the morning. I don’t remember how I got in, but it was really early, like six am. I had to set up in virtual darkness with my assistant, trying to be super quiet. I literally got a ladder, climbed on top of Dash’s wardrobe and wedged myself against his wall in a foot and a half of space. I had my Kino, a hot light and a little tiny flash, because there was no light in his actual place – he had blacked out all the windows. All natural light was shunned. It was pretty funny. 

I think Dash was completely sleeping in this shot and Dan and Ryan were pretty close to being out. I would ask them to turn over and there would be no response. They were in and out of consciousness. 

It is really cute seeing them like this, they are so comfortable with one another. Later on, I woke them up and they all sat in bed facing the camera smoking cigarettes, which is the image that got published. But this image was from the beginning of the first roll. 

Dash’s home was full of his work, from wall to wall. He was completely surrounded by his projects. It was the same with Ryan and Dan – they lived to work. I only spent about an hour with them that morning, but I spent four days with them in the end. It was kind of tense at times, but all in all they were really cooperative. 

I didn’t hear or see Dash again after this. I was so sad when he died – it was so horrifying and tragic. Dash has his fans and he has his critics, but I think that’s just par for the course for any artist that puts themselves out there. Creating work and calling it art, you invite a lot of opinions. But, to me, he was a very sincere, gracious sweetheart. Unfortunately, he isn’t around to see what a major impact his work is having. I think what he did in his life was pretty extraordinary.”