Legends of Photography #04: Garry Winogrand
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You would probably agree that when we start a fresh photographic trip, the identity of our destination usually unfolds through and in the streets of a city. If not always, in most cases we are standing with our camera in places where people bring city to life, just like our blood does to our bodies through an ongoing flow and interaction. And somewhere in between the crowds of people, we become witnesses of a photographic phenomenon. Due to a similar personal experience that I had in the streets of Scotland, I decided to put together a few words regarding Garry Winogrand.
Garry Winogrand was born at 14 of January in 1928 and today he is known as one of the most famous ‘street photographers’ of all time, as the content of his photographs is attached to streets, and in his case the streets of New York. He personally hated the term ‘street’ photographer. He used to consider himself a mere viewer who desired just to capture moments from his surrounding environment. He explains that:
“I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.”
His view regarding the art of photography was quite simplistic, but at the same time provocative while sometimes was dispraised by people. Not a few times, he was disparaged for his work - in my personal view wrongfully. His work evokes us to conclude that a ‘good’ photograph is basically a result of a spontaneous interaction between the photographer and his camera. Winogrand used his camera the same way he used his eyes, while the shutter opened and closed as often as our eyelids are blinking. This may sound exaggerated – I will not disagree with you – but let me underline that according to estimations his photographs amount to 5.8 millions!!! In fact, during an interview he admitted that he does not have the time to develop or even see all of his films. His need to constantly observe the world through his lenses surpasses our common sense of reason.
What is regularly evoked inside us - even unconsciously – when we look at many of his photographs is a certain irrationality. Winogrand had created a parallel world inside his pictures, made of his own reason and fancy. Often we are tricked to miss what was really there at a given time, and we see only what he wanted to disclosure. Other times we feel that we ‘must’ decide what is really depicted and we divide our mind trying. Is the photograph a representation of reality or just a ‘page’ in photographer's mind? Is this female figure laughing? Or is she just yelling?
He personally explains that:
“I don’t have anything to say in any picture. My only interest in photography is to see what something looks like as a photograph. I have no preconceptions.”
He is not consumed with rules. He chooses to photograph whatever his instinct allows him to.
“Photos have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface.”
He used to take photographs with a 28mm lens, something that allowed him to get real close to his subjects, while his themes consisted mostly of people. Unlike Bresson, Winogrand did not wish to be ‘invisible’ and he wanted to affect his subjects with his presence. Mason Resnick had said once:
“Winogrand was caught up with the energy of his subjects, and was constantly smiling or nodding at people as he shot. It was as if his camera was secondary and his main purpose was to communicate and make quick but personal contact with people as they walked by”.
To be honest, my smiling attitude does not always work in the way it was suggested by Resnick, but it’s up to you to give it a try and see if you agree.
Another inextricable characteristic of Winogrand’s technic was that he avoided ‘cropping’ his photographs. Maybe this happened due to the large amount of his work or maybe due to aesthetics, as he believed, just like Bresson, that a photograph is born, lives or dies without the photographer being able to alter its aesthetic content. Sometimes, the distance between these two choices is very short.
“Great photography is always on the edge of failure.”
“Photographers mistake the emotion they feel while taking the picture as judgment that the photograph is good”
Photography from “the animals”
His work “the animals” depicts a brief example of Winogrand’s technic, concerning the way form and content are holding up inside a photograph. For him, ‘form’ constitutes the technical elements of a photograph which one has to respect. On the other hand, 'content' provides a reason of being for everything we see inside a photograph. Form and content, even while they are independent from each other, compile together the equation that gives birth to a photograph.
“Every photograph is a battle of form versus content.”
Winogrand gave his own ‘battle’ regarding the relationship of these two elements and created masterpieces in the area of photography. Nevertheless, there was one battle that he could not win, a battle against cancer that led to his death at 19th of March in 1984. About ten thousands undeveloped films were found after he passed away. Even now, a great part of his work has not yet come to light.
The Animals. New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art, 1969
Women are Beautiful. New York, NY: Light Gallery; New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975
O'Hagan, Sean (15 October 2014). "Garry Winogrand: the restless genius who gave street photography attitude
Winogrand, Garry (1977). Public Relations. New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art.
INTERVIEW: “Monkeys Make the Problem More Difficult – A Collective Interview with Garry Winogrand” (1970)
Class Time with Garry Winogrand by O.C. Garza”
“Coffee and Workprints: A Workshop With Garry Winogrand” by Mason Resnick
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