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Artists Garry Winogrand
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Garry Winogrand

American Photographer

Movements and Styles: Modern Photography, Street Photography, Straight Photography

Born: 1928

Died: 1984

Garry Winogrand Timeline

Quotes

"You could say that I'm a student of photography---and I am - but really I'm a student of America."
Garry Winogrand
"Sometimes photographers mistake emotion for what makes a great street photograph."
Garry Winogrand
"No moment is most important. Any moment can be something."
Garry Winogrand
"All a photograph ever does is describe light on surface. That's all there ever is. And that's all we ever know of anybody- what we see."
Garry Winogrand
"Every photograph is a battle of form versus content. The good ones are on the border of failure."
Garry Winogrand
"Life is banal. The artist deals in banality."
Garry Winogrand
"My intention is to make interesting photos."
Garry Winogrand
"I function out of terror."
Garry Winogrand
"Art is not a matter of industrial efficiency."
Garry Winogrand
"Sometimes I feel like ... the world is a place I bought a ticket to. It's a big show for me, as if it wouldn't happen if I wasn't there with a camera."
Garry Winogrand

"When I photograph I see life. That's what I deal with."

Garry Winogrand Signature

Synopsis

Garry Winogrand's bizarre and visually compelling photographs of American life during the 1960s catapulted his status as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Throwing away the established traditions of Street Photography set forth by his predecessors, his photographs often appear haphazard, tilted, and poorly composed - what came to be called the 'snapshot aesthetic'. However, this unique aesthetic helped emphasize his subject matter, which challenged preconceptions of American society and the post-WWII optimism captured by commercial photography. His skewed and off-center images paradoxically united discordant elements into one composition, allowing the viewer to engage with his subjects in new and unusual ways. In so doing, Winogrand influenced an entire generation of photographers and artists to push the boundaries of what photography as a medium could be and what it could expose. Winogrand's prolific body of work is best known through the photo books he published.

Key Ideas

Rather than allowing the scenes he photographed to happen as he maintained a passive stance, as traditional street photographers had done, he intruded into his subject's physical space. This allowed him to startle and provoke his subjects as he shot them and thus to capture their startled and strange glances. For Winogrand, the photographs that most interested him were ones that both shocked himself as well as his audience. This resulted in images with a novel point of view that challenged viewers to question what photography's role was in American society, and what photography could reveal.
Known for walking down the streets of New York City snapping the shutter with the camera held ajar and far away from his eye, Winogrand intentionally broke the rules of composition - his images are frequently blurry cut off his subject's bodies. Deviating from the glossy, balanced compositions of his predecessors, Winogrand captured the unusual moments that radiated the tension and unease of life as it really was - messy, frenzied, and ill composed.
Winogrand's images exposed a raw truth of American society. Shunning the wholesome and optimistic images published in magazines and newspapers by his contemporaries, his cynical and startling images captured what he himself considered to be the truth of everyday life. The subtly of his social and political commentary in his images of the turbulent 1960s requires a close inspection of what precisely is the underlying truth depicted in his photographs. It is this aspect of Winogrand's outsider aesthetic that inspired the next generation of artists and photographers.

Most Important Art

Garry Winogrand Famous Art

El Morocco, New York (1955)

This photo depicts a close up snap shot of a couple dancing at the popular New York club called El Morocco in 1955. It stands out for the strangeness of the moment Winogrand chose to capture. Rather than selecting a more flattering shot of the dancing couple, this image instead reads as slightly terrifying. The close cropping of the image lends it a claustrophobic feel, and the perfectly pointed manicure of the woman reads as claws clutching the man's shoulder. The man's back is to the camera, making it unclear whether he shares his dance partner's exuberance. With the woman's face as the only visual cue, Winogrand creates an image charged with energy and desperation. The woman's wide open mouth, presumably captured mid-laugh, gives the image its unhinged and frenzied tone.

When this image was taken during the 1950s, there was a sense of optimism in America. The war was over, the Allies had won, and after decades of living through an economic depression, America was prospering once more. Magazines and periodicals were only interested in depicting this feel good, new American way of life. This photograph is a careful balance of representing the post-war enthusiasm that earned photographers spreads in Life Magazine (and thus assured photographers a way of living) and a subtle expression of the cynicism and social critique that came to define Winogrand's artistic style. The woman's manically happy face paired with her claw-like manicure captures the willfully ignorant tone of American media at this time, which was intent on glossing over the darker ills of society in favor of an overly exuberant optimism.

This image was taken when Winogrand was starting to think more artistically about his work. As the head of photographs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Sarah Greenough, explains "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." The blurriness of the image and its chopped, tilted frame show the emergence of Winogrand's signature style that was reflective of his personal philosophy that it was more important for photography to capture a fleeting moment than to ascribe a particular meaning.
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Garry Winogrand Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood/Education and Early Training

Garry Winogrand was born in 1928, and along with his sister, Stella, grew up in a Jewish, working-class neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City. His parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary and Poland in the hopes of having a better life in the United States, but then the Great Depression hit the country a year after Winogrand was born. His parents tried to make ends meet working in the garment industry- his father was a leather maker, while his mother made neckties. Not one to particularly concern himself with academics, Winogrand graduated from high school in 1946 and, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, entered into the United States Army, where he served for one year. After which he studied under the G.I. Bill at City College in New York City, but transferred to Columbia University to study painting the following year. It was at Columbia that a fellow student and photographer for the school paper showed Winogrand the school's dark room. Shortly after this introduction, he switched his major from painting to photography and never looked back.

In 1949, he also took a photography class at the New School, where his teacher, Alexey Brodovitch, who was the celebrated art director at Harper's Bazaar at the time, taught him to rely on his instinct rather than classical photographic techniques when taking photos. Brodovitch also taught the well-known photographers Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. Following in Brodovitch's footsteps, Winogrand, Avedon, and Penn all began as commercial photographers. While Avedon and Penn established their prominence in that realm, Winogrand would eventually abandon commercial photography in order to pursue his own projects that shunned the glossy and beautiful world depicted in magazines. Regardless, the lessons Brodovitch gave Winogrand, such as trusting his gut rather than established conventions would greatly influence him, defining not only his photographic style, but also his attitude towards the medium. Ultimately, Winogrand's working class immigrant background influenced his shooting style as well as his choice of subjects. This viewpoint ultimately set him apart from his colleagues, as well as the tremendous influence of photographers such as Brodovitch and Henri Cartier-Bresson. His unflinching view of American society places his lineage more in line with the photographers Walker Evans and Robert Frank.

During the 1950s, for a photographer to sell his work to collectors and to have museum exhibitions was still uncommon. So after college Winogrand began working as a freelance photojournalist and advertising photographer, creating images for magazines and periodicals, like Harper's Bazaar, Sports Illustrated and even Life Magazine, which at the time, was the most renowned publication in the United States. His work was shown at the famous photography exhibition at MoMA, The Family of Man, in 1955. The exhibition was later critiqued for projecting a glossy and optimistic tone and repudiated in the content and subject matter of Winogrand's later works. Winogrand later critiqued the exhibition, noting that it "popularized the type of photography seen in Life magazine," and ultimately dismissed it as a "malfunction of a museum."

Winogrand shot almost exclusively with the Leica M4, a rangefinder camera known for its small, discrete size and its nearly silent shutter that let him take photographs of people without them being entirely aware of what he was doing. He also used a wide-angle lens, which meant that more physical space could be captured. Due to the large scope captured with this type of lens, it also meant that he had to be physically close to his subjects in order to capture their facial expressions. His use of the unobtrusive Leica M4 allowed him to startle and provoke his subjects as he shot them, while the wide angle lens simultaneously captured the larger context of his subject's surroundings. The Leica M4 had been the preferred camera for Street Photographers and photojournalists for some time, but the way in which Winogrand utilized it in developing his own aesthetic and artistic voice is what sets his work apart.

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Garry Winogrand Biography Continues

Mature / Late Periods

Like most photographers of his generation, Winogrand was inspired by the black and white photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans. It was after seeing Evans's book American Photographs that he really became driven in regards to his own work. Everyday he would shoot relentlessly, and with the dynamic energy of the city as his subject and inspiration, Winogrand began to create an unwavering body of work that was rich in its diversity. He took photos of women passing by, animals, parades, crowded street corners, airports, business men, political conventions, anti-war protests- any scene he found interesting, but always containing people. In 1960 Winogrand sold his first works to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His agent set up a meeting with the curator of photography, Edward Steichen. Steichen, who is considered to be one of the greatest twentieth-century photographers and a key figure in the rise of photography as an art form, saw something promising in the young photographer's work and paid Winogrand ten dollars for each photo he purchased.

Winogrand never liked to use the term street photographer because he felt it was an irrelevant term that didn't say anything about his work. And yet he is often associated with famed street photographers, like Diane Arbus, Joel Meyerwotiz and close friend, Lee Friedlander. Sometimes Winogrand could even be found shooting the New York City streets with Meyerwotiz. During this time, much of his work was part of group exhibitions, including curator John Szarkowski's seminal 1967 show, New Documents at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, which also featured the work of Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. This exhibition also featured a slideshow of some of Winogrand's color photographs, but the film caught fire in the projector, destroying all 80 images. Winogrand stopped shooting in color after 1966 so some of his best works in color have been lost forever. Nevertheless, Winogrand's presence in this exhibition catapulted his career as an art photographer. Shortly after this exhibition, Winogrand published his first photo book, The Animals in 1969.

In 1969, Winogrand was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to photograph what he called, "the influence of media on events." Turning his camera not just on the protests but also toward the media egging on and playing a part in them, this body of work captured the mass hysteria of the time on an intimate level that focused on people's reactions to the events, rather than the events themselves. The book of this body of work, titled Public Relations, was published in 1977.

In 1969, Winogrand stopped working as a commercial photographer and instead supported himself, and his third wife and daughter by teaching. He taught in New York, then in Chicago, and finally at the University of Texas, Austin. Many of Winogrand's baffled students found his teaching methods unorthodox and confusing at first. Most of class time was spent in awkward silence with the photographer curtly answering students' questions. It wasn't until he took them outside to shoot the world around them that the real learning began. Winogrand taught the same way he photographed. He wasn't interested in teaching his students the proper photographic techniques, but rather how to use their cameras to see.

Death

Winogrand passed away suddenly at the age of 56, one month after discovering he had incurable gall bladder cancer. He died in Tijuana, Mexico where he was seeking alternative treatment. Winogrand left behind a prolific body of work, including a vast amount of undeveloped film rolls. It's estimated there are over 5.4 million photographs in his archive. Winogrand famously developed his film one to two years after shooting so as to approach his work more critically. "If I was in a good mood when I was shooting one day, then developed the film right away I might choose a picture because I remember how good I felt when I took it, not necessarily because it was a great shot." So at the time of his untimely death he left behind 6,600 rolls of film that were undeveloped. The debate over whether or not to publish these unedited images continues today.

The sheer volume of which has now created a problem for those tasked with its upkeep. As curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA), Erin O'Toole, explains, "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."


Legacy

From the beginning of his career to the very end, Winogrand's unique style was as much about consistency as it was about his defiant attitude towards the medium. He invented the tilted frame as a reaction against the horizontal point of reference found in fine art photography. And it was his tilted frame that led to the idea of the 'snapshot aesthetic', which would inspire future generations of photographers, like Nan Goldin, William Eggleston, and Wolfgang Tillmans. These photographers took inspiration from Winogrand's unusual approach to shooting and his often unusual subject matter and outsider perspective.

For instance, the snapshots of the brutal realities depicted in Nan Goldin's work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency can be seen as part of the legacy left by Winogrand. Wolfgang Tillman's experimental use of photography and his unusual pairings of seemingly discordant images can similarly be traced back to Winogrand, while William Eggleston's scenes of American life in full color more directly adhere to Winogrand's contributions to the medium of Street Photography.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Garry Winogrand
Interactive chart with Garry Winogrand's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Henri Cartier-BressonHenri Cartier-Bresson
Walker EvansWalker Evans
Robert FrankRobert Frank
Dorothea LangeDorothea Lange

Friends

Lee FriedlanderLee Friedlander
Diane ArbusDiane Arbus
Joel Meyerwotiz
Tod Papegeorge
Leo Rubinfien

Movements

Modern PhotographyModern Photography
Street PhotographyStreet Photography
Garry Winogrand
Garry Winogrand
Years Worked: 1952 - 1984

Artists

Nan GoldinNan Goldin
William EgglestonWilliam Eggleston
Wolfgang Tillmans
Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Stephen Shore

Friends

Movements

Street PhotographyStreet Photography
The Pictures GenerationThe Pictures Generation

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Katelyn Davis

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Katelyn Davis
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Garry Winogrand

Videos

Books

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Winogrand: Figments From the Real World Recomended resource

By John Szarkowski

written by artist

The Animals

Garry Winogrand: Public Relations

More Interesting Books about Garry Winogrand
Garry Winogrand Recomended resource

Captures Winogrand in action in the 1980s while he also discusses his work and philosophy on photography

Garry Winogrand - Photographer, by Micheal Engler Filmproduktion Recomended resource

Captures Winogrand photographing in Los Angeles and talking about his work

Sunday at the MET: Garry Winogrand

Examines Winogrand's photographs of daily life in post-war America and 1960s New York City

Garry Winogrand at Rice University

Winogrand answers students' questions while guest lecturing at Rice University

More Interesting Videos with Garry Winogrand
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