Recently I came across two very separate pieces of art which made me do a “deep dive” on Garry Winogrand who has been described as “the central photographer of his generation”.
The first was Leslie Jameson’s essay “A Street Full of Strangers” which is a reverie on how viewing Garry Winogrand in a gallery made her see things differently including understanding her own challenges. It is a remarkable piece of writing catalyzed by his photography.
Jameson writes: “These were stunning scenes not because they were extraordinary, but because they weren’t. They were full of ordinary people seen so clearly that they became extraordinary in their beauty. “How do you make a photograph that’s more beautiful than what was photographed?” Winogrand once asked. But I didn’t see his photos that way. I didn’t think he was making the world more beautiful; I thought he was excavating beauty that was already there. His alchemy didn’t turn the world holy so much as it revealed that the world had been holy all along—”
The second was a 2019 documentary on Garry Winogrand “All things are photographable” which reminds us that great art like great architecture can only be admired from a distance whether it physical distance or the passage of time. Pictures taken in the 1960’s make us see who we are today better than many photographers.
“There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described,” Winogrand said, and his photographs perform some version of this seduction by way of plain exposure. “That’s all there is, light on surface,” he also said, which made me think of a deceptively simple statement Edward Hopper had made about his own art: “What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house.”
The Garrry Winogrand Way of Seeing
Garry Winogrand who died in 1984 was the first digital photographer decades before digital in that he was not constrained by the scarcity of film and took over a million pictures. He combined a disinterest in technique with an obsessive devotion to shooting on the street all day, every day.
Garry was most alive when he was outside of himself which was when he was behind a camera lens. He once said “I get totally out of myself. It’s the closest I come to not existing, I think, which is the best – which is to me attractive.”
To him seeing was key:
“Sometimes I feel like … the world is a place I bought a ticket to,” Winogrand once said. “It’s a big show for me, as if it wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t there with a camera.”
“When I’m photographing, I see life.”
Garry Winogrand on photography as the work and craft on how to see.
“You have a lifetime to learn technique. But I can teach you what is more important than technique, how to see; learn that and all you have to do afterwards is press the shutter.” ~ Garry Winogrand
“Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.”
“No one moment is most important. Any moment can be something.”
“You know, I really don’t think you learn from teachers. You learn from work. I think what you learn, really, is how to be- you have to be your own toughest critic, and you only learn that from work, from seeing work.”
A Winogrand way of seeing: The tilted camera
“There’s an arbitrary idea that the horizontal edge in a frame has to be the point of reference.”
“Frame in terms of what you want to have in the picture, not about making a nice picture, that anybody can do.”
“You’ve got to deal with how photographs look, what’s there, not how they’re made.”.
A Winogrand way of seeing: Focus on the choreography of legs.
How often do we look down versus looking up when we take photographs ?
Winogrand often looked at the ballet of his subjects movements.
A Winogrand way of making us see: Show others seeing.
Garry Winogrand often focussed on now what people were looking at but at them looking at the object.
He believed we saw when we saw others see.
A Winogrand way of making us see the specialness of of every day: Bringing feeling to the ordinary.
“If Garry Winogrand photographed everything, all the time, as he is famous for having done, his pictures of airports convey the many still very familiar sights and spaces and sensations attached to air travel. Arriving at an airport, checking baggage, watching other travelers amble, walk and sometimes rush by luggage trailing and flailing and neatly rolling along, passengers waiting forever on those long rows of attached seats, friends and relatives greeting each other and saying goodbye…
Garry Winogrand suggests to see better we need to look more often, look with different perspectives and look where others do not.
Photography by Gary Winogrand.
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