28
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Garry Winogrand’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 9th March – 2nd June 2013

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“Every photograph is a battle of form versus content.”

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Garry Winogrand

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Playing God with his film

Form and content. Form and content

I don’t like the work of Garry Winogrand. Never have, never will. I think his work is overrated and and somewhat trite. That should stir up all the Winophiles who think that he is one of the best street photographers in the history of the medium!

At best his form is average – technical aspects adequate; composition is pretty basic including dull use of tension points within the picture frame; and framing very bland, tilted angles not withstanding. His content is nothing special either, mainly frontal shots of people walking towards him or voyeuristic shots while mingled in crowds, or a mixture of both. As he himself says, “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.” By letting the medium describe the world around him. And therein lies part of the problem.

Winogrand just looks – and you can’t fault someone for just looking. It’s just a not very interesting looking.

If I really look at Winogrand’s work I can see that he just states what he saw in shot after shot after shot, indiscriminately. Personally, I find there is a real cycnicism in his work. The photographs “describe” his own state of mind – as much as he denies that he (or his state of mind) has anything to do with the act of describing the world through photography. You see, it’s all about how the camera sees the world and not how he sees it. Hence, Winogrand hardly embraces his feelings towards the world and if he does, it is only in a half-hearted manner. For example, he goes a certain way towards the dark (as in the photographs Utah (Wyoming), 1964 and Los Angeles, 1964, both below) and then stops. The other part of the problem is this: what you can also fault is all the hyperbole that is laid over the top of his work by curators and museums – because on close examination the work really doesn’t justify it. It’s actually not that good.

Winogrand states and summarises but doesn’t solve. He just keeps adding to the list occasionally, under duress, ordering it (photographs of women in the book Women are Beautiful, 1975):

“During his Austin years he was preparing two books, ‘Public Relations’ and ‘Women are Beautiful’. Given his method of printing every image on the contact sheet for the selection process, and given his proclivity for the physical act of shooting, no wonder he wasn’t out on the street as much as he’d like. Yes he had to print, select and publish some prints to survive unless he wanted to teach the rest of his life. I don’t believe he wanted to do that. Had there been a way, I believe he would died a blissful death had he been on the streets clicking away and either letting the exposed film rot or letting someone else process and print them, and arrange the books and shows and collect the money. That’s how much he loved the physical act of shooting. 

He felt at home out there, looking for the next image to expose. He was also the boss out there, playing God with his film and deciding where to frame that next battle between form and content, then the next and the next.”1

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Playing God with his film…

In some ways Winogrand reminds me of both the king and the court jester. King because he could frame the battle between form and content ad infinitum and jester because he was the fool, standing in front of people, laughing, smiling, obsequious, running hither and yon to get every shot, any shot. See the video below to understand what I mean. Unlike the photographs in Robert Frank’s The Americans, his is not a poetic understanding of the world for the difference between Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand is that the former’s photographs are undeniably poetic while the latter’s are prosaic aphorisms about the world. In Winogrand’s “describing” the social landscape he photographed is reduced to lists of things: “the dislocation of urban life, the rise of the suburb with its growing alienation, the skepticism of youth, and the collusion of the press and the powerful,” rarely pursued by any obvious means and certainly not through poetic evocation.

I think that Winogrand struggled with the question – do I add to the list or do I order the list? Obviously he chose the former, for if there is no order in life there can be no order in the archive. Hence we are left with the “Unfinished” Late Work, an archive of 250,000 images that have remained virtually unknown. A boon for researchers and curators wishing to position Winogrand’s legacy “revealing for the first time the full sweep of his career… creating a vivid portrait of the artist.”

Even when the artist could not be bothered (so why should we bother).
Even when the images were never seen or acknowledged.
The artist streetwise in his omnipotent isolation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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“Great photography is always on the edge of failure.”
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“I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.”
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“I like to think of photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium, by letting it do what it does best, describe. And respect for the subject, by describing as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both.”
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“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.”

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Garry Winogrand

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“We quickly learned Winogrand’s technique – he walked slowly or stood in the middle of pedestrian traffic as people went by. He shot prolifically. I watched him walk a short block and shoot an entire roll without breaking stride. As he reloaded, I asked him if he felt bad about missing pictures when he reloaded. “No,” he replied, “there are no pictures when I reload.” He was constantly looking around, and often would see a situation on the other side of a busy intersection. Ignoring traffic, he would run across the street to get the picture.”

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Mason Resnick

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“Form and content are two keys which make a memorable street photograph. Consider “form” as the composition, framing, and technical aspects of a photograph. Consider “content” as what is actually happening in the photograph (whether it be an old couple holding hands, a boy holding two bottles of wine, or a man looking through a peep-hole)… Garry Winogrand shot with a 28mm lens for most of his life [using a Leica M4 35mm and Tri-X film pushed to 1200 ASA], which meant that for the majority of his shots he had to be quite close to his subjects (and in front of them). Therefore Winogrand wasn’t Henri Cartier-Bresson (trying to be invisible) but was actively a part of the action and immersed in the crowds. He would be very obviously taking photographs in the streets and would stick out like a sore thumb.”

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Eric Kim

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Garry Winogrand – The Man In The Crowd

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Garry Winogrand. 'Utah (Wyoming)' 1964

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Garry Winogrand
Utah (Wyoming)
1964
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'Fort Worth, Texas' 1974

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Garry Winogrand
Fort Worth, Texas
1974
Gelatin silver print
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Doris and Donald Fisher and Marion E. Greene
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'Fort Worth, Texas' 1975

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Garry Winogrand
Fort Worth, Texas
1975
Gelatin silver print
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Dr. Paul Getz
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'John F. Kennedy, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles' 1960

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Garry Winogrand
John F. Kennedy, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles
1960
Posthumous digital reproduction from original negative
Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles' 1960

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Garry Winogrand
Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles
1960
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'New York' c. 1960

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Garry Winogrand
New York
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'Elliot Richardson Press Conference, Austin, Texas' 1973

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Garry Winogrand
Elliot Richardson Press Conference, Austin, Texas
1973
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Elliot Lee Richardson (July 20, 1920 – December 31, 1999) was an American lawyer and politician who was a member of the cabinet of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. As U.S. Attorney General, he was a prominent figure in the Watergate Scandal, and resigned rather than obey President Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. (Text from Wikipedia)

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Garry Winogrand. 'Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum, New York' 1969

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Garry Winogrand
Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum, New York
1969
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'Point Mugu Naval Air-Station, California' 1979

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Garry Winogrand
Point Mugu Naval Air-Station, California
1979
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Untitled-1970-gelatin-silver-print-WEB

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Garry Winogrand
Untitled
1970
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'Venice Beach, Los Angeles' 1979

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Garry Winogrand
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
1979
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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“The first retrospective in 25 years of work by artist Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) – the renowned photographer of New York City and of American life from the 1950s through the early 1980s – will debut at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from March 9 through June 2, 2013. Jointly organized by SFMOMA and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Garry Winogrand brings together the artist’s most iconic images with newly printed photographs from his largely unexamined archive of late work, offering a rigorous overview of Winogrand’s complete working life and revealing for the first time the full sweep of his career. More than 300 photographs in the exhibition and more than 400 in the accompanying catalogue will create a vivid portrait of the artist – a chronicler of postwar America on a par with such figures as Norman Mailer and Robert Rauschenberg who unflinchingly captured America’s wrenching swings between optimism and upheaval in the decades following World War II.

While Winogrand is widely considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, his overall body of work and influence on the field remains incompletely explored. He was enormously prolific but largely postponed the editing and printing of his work. Dying suddenly at the age of 56, he left behind approximately 6,500 rolls of film (some 250,000 images) that he had never seen, as well as proof sheets from his earlier years that he had marked but never printed. Roughly half of the photographs in the exhibition have never been exhibited or published until now; over 100 have never before been printed.

“There exists in photography no other body of work of comparable size or quality that is so editorially unresolved,” says Rubinfien, who was among the youngest of Winogrand’s circle of friends in the 1970s. “This exhibition represents the first effort to comprehensively examine Winogrand’s unfinished work. It also aims to turn the presentation of his work away from topical editing and toward a freer organization that is faithful to his art’s essential spirit, thus enabling a new understanding of his oeuvre, even for those who think they know him.”

The exhibition is divided into three parts, each covering a broad variety of subjects found in Winogrand’s art. “Down from the Bronx” presents photographs taken for the most part in New York from his start in 1950 until 1971; “A Student of America” looks at work made in the same period during journeys outside New York; and “Boom and Bust” addresses Winogrand’s late period – from when he moved away from New York in 1971 until his death in 1984 – with photographs from Texas and Southern California, as well as Chicago, Washington, Miami, and other locations. This third section also includes a small number of photographs Winogrand made on trips back to Manhattan, which express a sense of desolation unprecedented in his earlier work.

Winogrand was known as great talker with a flamboyant, forceful personality, and what he said accompanying his slide shows and lectures was often imaginative and very funny. A number of videos edited for presentation in the exhibition will allow visitors to experience the living Winogrand as audiences have rarely been able to do for 30-odd years. A short selection from Winogrand’s experimental 8mm footage taken in the late 1960s will also be on view.

After premiering at SFMOMA in spring 2013 Garry Winogrand will travel to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (March 2 through June 8, 2014); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (June 27 through September 21, 2014); the Jeu de Paume, Paris (October 14, 2014 through January 25, 2015); and the Fundacion MAPFRE, Madrid (March 3 through May 10, 2015).

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An Epic Chronicler of Postwar America

Born in the Bronx, Winogrand did much of his best-known work in Manhattan during the 1960s, and in both the content of his photographs and his artistic style he became one of the principal voices of that eruptive decade – so much so that influential Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski anointed him “the central photographer of his generation.”

Known primarily as a street photographer, Winogrand, who is often associated with famed contemporaries Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, photographed with dazzling energy and incessant appetite, exposing some 20,000 rolls of film in his short lifetime. He photographed business moguls, everyday women on the street, famous actors and athletes, hippies, rodeos, politicians, soldiers, animals in zoos, car culture, airports, and antiwar demonstrators and the construction workers who beat them bloody in view of the unmoved police. Daily life in postwar America – rich with new possibility and yet equally anxious, threatening to spin out of control – seemed to unfold for him in a continuous stream.

Yet if Winogrand was one of New York City’s prime photographers, he was also an avid traveler who roamed widely around the United States, bringing exquisite work out of locations that included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ohio, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Colorado, and the open country of the Southwest. “You could say that I am a student of photography,” he said, “and I am; but really I’m a student of America.” Winogrand’s expansive visual catalogue of the nation’s evolving social scene has led to comparisons to Walt Whitman, who also unspooled the world in endless lists of people, places, and things.

Winogrand’s pictures often bulge with twenty or thirty figures, and are fascinating both for their dramatic foregrounds and the sub-events at their edges. Even when crowded with people or at their most lighthearted – he was fond of visual puns and was drawn to the absurd – his pictures can convey a feeling of human isolation, hinting at something darker beneath the veneer of the American dream. Early on, some critics considered his pictures formally “shapeless” and “random,” but admirers and critics later found a unique poetry in his tilted horizons and his love of the haphazard.

“Winogrand was an artistic descendant of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, but differed sharply from them,” says Rubinfien. “He admired Frank’s ‘The Americans’, but felt the work missed the main story of its time, which in his mind was the emergence of suburban prosperity and isolation. The hope and buoyancy of middle-class life in postwar America is half of the emotional heart of Winogrand’s work. The other half is a sense of undoing. The tension between these qualities gives his work its distinct character.”

After serving in the military as a weather forecaster, Winogrand first began working as a photographer while studying painting on the G.I. Bill at Columbia University (1948–51). During that time, he also studied briefly with Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research. While pursuing his personal work, he began supplying commercial photographs to a number of general-interest magazines such as Life, Look, Sports Illustrated, Collier’s, and Pageant, which were then at the height of their power and reach. His career was further shaped by the decline of those magazines and the rise of a new culture of photography centered in the art world.

“Winogrand worked at a moment when the boundaries between journalistic and artistic photography were less certain than they had ever been, yet it was also a time when the most advanced photographers were consciously abandoning journalistic values,” says Greenough. “The social landscape he photographed – the dislocation of urban life, the rise of the suburb with its growing alienation, the skepticism of youth, and the collusion of the press and the powerful – was of concern to many Americans. Yet Winogrand rarely pursued an obvious means to explicate these ideas, preferring poetic evocation over intelligible journalism.”

Winogrand went on to exhibit widely at prominent museums and achieved renown in his lifetime. Yet despite this recognition, he is perhaps the most inadequately understood of all his contemporaries.

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“Unfinished” Late Work Thoroughly Investigated for the First Time

The act of taking pictures was far more fulfilling to Winogrand than making prints or editing for books and exhibitions – he often allowed others to perform these tasks for him. Near the end of his life, he spoke of reviewing and reediting all of his photographs, but never had a chance to oversee the shaping of his legacy, or even to review much of the output of his later years. Because of his working methods and his lack of interest in developing his film toward the end of his life, he left behind more than 2,500 rolls of exposed but undeveloped film, an additional 4,100 rolls that he had processed but never seen – an estimated total of 250,000 images that have remained virtually unknown.

Furthermore, Winogrand published just five modest books during his lifetime – The Animals (1969), Women Are Beautiful (1975), Garry Winogrand (1976), Public Relations (1977), and Stock Photographs (1980) – that represent only a fraction of his work and are mainly confined to narrow topical frames that don’t suggest the full scope of his importance.

“One reason that Winogrand is only now receiving the full retrospective treatment already devoted to peers of his era, including Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Robert Frank, is that any truly comprehensive consideration of his life’s work requires contending with the practical and ethical issues surrounding the vast archive he left behind,” says O’Toole. “In the absence of explicit instructions from him regarding how he wanted his work to be handled after he was gone, its posthumous treatment has been the subject of ongoing debate and raises provocative questions about the creative process and its relationship to issues specific to the medium.”

“Some argue that what was left behind should be left alone, and that no one should intrude upon the intentions of an artist,” adds Rubinfien. “But the quantity of Winogrand’s output, the incompleteness with which he reviewed it, and the suddenness of his death create a special case in which the true scope of an eminent photographer’s work cannot be known without the intervention of an editor.”

Now housed at the Center for Creative Photography of the University of Arizona, Tucson, Winogrand’s “unfinished” work was initially organized in the years just after his death by several colleagues and friends in preparation for the artist’s first major museum retrospective, held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA) in 1988. Exhibition curator John Szarkowski felt the quality of Winogrand’s work had significantly deteriorated in the last 15 years of his life, and included only a small group of pictures from the mysterious late work in MoMA exhibition.

Nearly 30 years have elapsed since the last attempt to grapple with the complete arc of Winogrand’s career. Benefiting from new curatorial research undertaken for this project, the current exhibition will provide a long-awaited reevaluation of his accomplishments. As one of the first museums to recognize photography as a legitimate art form, SFMOMA has collaborated with the National Gallery of Art – who, like SFMOMA, is known for its photography scholarship – in a multi-year endeavor to spearhead the presentation of this important exhibition and publication.”

Press release from the SFMOMA website

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Garry Winogrand. 'New York' 1961

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Garry Winogrand
New York
1961
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'New York' 1963

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Garry Winogrand
New York
1963
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'San Marcos, Texas' 1964

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Garry Winogrand
San Marcos, Texas
1964
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'Coney Island, New York' c. 1952

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Garry Winogrand
Coney Island, New York
c. 1952
Gelatin silver print
Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; digital image
© The Museum of Modern Art/ Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

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Garry Winogrand. 'Fort Worth, Texas' 1974-77

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Garry Winogrand
Fort Worth, Texas
1974-77
Gelatin silver print
Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York' 1968

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Garry Winogrand
John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
1968
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'New York' 1950

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Garry Winogrand
New York
1950
Gelatin silver print
Collection SFMOMA, fractional and promised gift of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'New York' c. 1962

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Garry Winogrand
New York
c. 1962
Gelatin silver print
Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'Venice Beach, Los Angeles' 1980-83

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Garry Winogrand
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
1980-83
Gelatin silver print
Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Garry Winogrand. 'Grand Central Station' 1968

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Garry Winogrand
Grand Central Station
1968
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'Los Angeles' 1964

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Garry Winogrand
Los Angeles
1964
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'New York' 1968

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Garry Winogrand
New York
1968
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Garry Winogrand. 'New York' c. 1969

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Garry Winogrand
New York
c. 1969
Silver gelatin photograph
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand

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1. Garza, O. C. Class Time with Garry Winogrand. 2007, p.19 [Online] Cited 26/05/2013
www.ocgarzaphotography.com/documents/ClassTimewithGarryWinograndfinal2.pdf

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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Opening hours:
Open daily (except Wednesdays): 11am – 5.45 pm
Open late Thursdays, until 8.45 pm

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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