Summary of Garry Winogrand
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.
- 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.
Important Art by Garry Winogrand
El Morocco, New York
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.
Gelatin silver print - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Marilyn Monroe, New York City
Many know this iconic image of Marilyn Monroe, shot on the set of the movie The Seven Year Itch. Monroe's strategic positioning over the subway grate at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street meant that as a train passed by underneath, the resulting air rushed above and sent her dress flying up. Monroe's thrown back head and gregarious laughter assured that this image captured her ebullient sexuality. The original photograph was taken as a publicity stunt for the movie, where over 20 photographers, including Winogrand, were invited to photograph Monroe, as the public also watched on adoringly. Take after take, Marilyn played to the lascivious crowd as much as to the cameras.
Winogrand's original photograph won the attention of the producers, despite the fact that Monroe's underwear was in full view of the camera lens. The scene was then reshot on a soundstage in Los Angeles because showing Monroe's underwear was deemed too risqué for the film. Despite its provocative content, this image was still used for promotional ads, helping make the film the biggest hit of 1955. Monroe's exposed legs that invited a desiring gaze of her body in this image solidified Monroe's sex symbol status, but it also signaled the end of her brief marriage to Joe DiMaggio. Present during the filming of the scene, DiMaggio couldn't tolerate Monroe's exhibitionism and the crowd's loud and approving response. He filed for divorce shortly after filming ended.
In terms of Winogrand's own work, this image shows that even early on in his career he was already a master at capturing the perfect candid moment, or what Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as the 'decisive moment.' As Cartier-Bresson himself explains, "[photographers] work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment on the way in which life itself unfolds. But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it." As Winogrand's career progressed, he moved away from the foundational legacy of Cartier-Bresson, instead embracing slap-dash compositions and subject matter that came to embody a darker and more critical stance towards society.
Gelatin silver print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Hand Feeding Elephant Trunk, Zoo
Hand Feeding Elephant Trunk, Zoo is from Winogrand's first book, The Animals. Taken at the Central Park Zoo, the image depicts the long trunk of an elephant reaching over its enclosure to catch peanuts falling from the open hand of a man. Leaving out both the body of the man as well as that of the elephant, this image is reflective of Winogrand's unusual shooting style that would come to define his career. This image can also be read as a brilliant twist on Michelangelo's painting The Creation of Man from the Sistine Chapel, in which God's outstretched hand reaches for Adam's in a symbolic gesture to give him life.
However, in Winogrand's image, there is a darker side to the man's outstretched hand. As art historian, Janet Malcolm explains, "[Winogrand] shows the Central Park Zoo for the dirty prison it was, focusing on the bars, the concrete floors, the dispirited ugly animals, the dumb (for thinking they are enjoying themselves), ugly people, and the grubbiness and meanness..." In this particular image a wall divides the man and elephant, physically separating them and emphasizing the divide between freedom and the lack thereof. And while the gesture of feeding the elephant may seem like an act of kindness, the wall is a reminder that humans imprisoned this once wild animal - its survival now dependent upon us.
Gelatin silver print - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
New York World's Fair
In this image, several men and women sit on a park bench consumed within their own lives. On the far left, a black man listens attentively to a white woman as she gestures emphatically with her hand. Next to them, two girls whisper conspiratorially to each other, while the third rests her head on her friend's chest. Meanwhile, in the far left two women look far beyond the frame of the photograph, with one lowering her sunglasses as if to get a better look, as the man next to them is instead preoccupied with his newspaper, seemingly unaware of those sitting next to him. Winogrand managed to capture the intimacy that only exists in a crowded city, here, people sit right next to each other but are absorbed in their own lives and conversations.
Shot during the time when Winogrand became more and more dissatisfied with capturing images that depicted the perfect life that magazines desperately wanted to portray. Rather, Winogrand saw life as infinitely more complex and sought to depict that in his images. He once remarked, "I read the newspapers, the columnists, some books, I look at the magazines (our press). They all deal in illusions and fantasies." So as a reaction against this oversimplified view, he captured moments depicting the nuances of life in order to create something authentic.
When this image was taken, during the New York World's Fair of 1964, the sense of optimism in America remained the primary focus of the media. But beneath this hopefulness there was also a sense of unease, especially as the 1960s progressed. Cold War fears were looming, and racial tensions were at an all-time high. Winogrand himself once remarked rather pessimistically, "I look at the pictures I have done up to now, and they make me feel that who we are and what we feel and what is to become of us just doesn't matter. Our aspirations and successes have become cheap and petty...I can only conclude that we have lost ourselves, and that the bomb may finish the job permanently, and it just doesn't matter, we have not loved life."
This cynicism also punctuated Winogrand's photographs that captured, on an intimate scale, these global dichotomist themes of both optimism and dread. This image exemplifies how he balances those two senses. World fairs, by their very nature, are hopeful places, full of bright possibilities for the future. And yet the people on the park bench symbolize an underlying sense of distrust. They are grouped together, ignoring the others around them. The two women in the middle whisper to each other as if to keep their conversation hidden from prying ears. As art historian, Jeff Rosenheim, explains, "there is anxiety in the pictures that suggests something else is going on, which was pervasive in the culture at the time."
Gelatin silver print - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
In this photograph, a well-dressed woman is captured mid-stride, her eyes focused beyond the frame of the camera lens. With her purse tucked neatly beneath her arm and a shopping bag clutched in her other hand, she looks too busy to notice Winogrand, who was standing very closely to her. The two businessmen walking behind her, however, look directly at the camera just as Winogrand releases the shutter. Their smirks are easily perceived, while the woman's wind swept hair partially covers the determined, stern expression on her face. While we are left to guess the reason behind the men's smirks, the juxtaposition of their grins with the woman's stern expression infuses the image with tension. This unease is also captured through Winogrand's framing of the harsh bright sunlight that help frame the woman and the dark shadows cast by the men.
Winogrand's most iconic works are his images that capture the energetic streets of New York City in the 1960s. He used a small-format Leica camera with a 28mm lens for most of his life. This allowed him to get wide frames, but also required him to be close up to his subjects in order to get his shots, which suited Winogrand's style perfectly. Unlike Cartier-Bresson, who tried to be invisible when capturing his subject matter so as not to corrupt the image, Winogrand immersed himself in the crowds, becoming an active participant in the scene. His photos, especially of women, are evidence of this technique. In this particular work the photographer intrudes in the woman's space, forcing her to quickly step aside to get out of his way. Another important departure from the tightly composed photographs of Cartier-Bresson is the loose framing of this image - one of the woman's legs is cut off abruptly at her knee, while the businessmen in the background collapse in compressed space of the photograph into her body. By Cartier-Bresson's photographic standards, a good photograph meant fully framing the main subject and assuring that it did not merge with objects (or people) in the background. However, the haphazard framing of this image contributes to the sense that the woman is unaware that her photograph is being taken, and heightens the sense of immediacy and intrusion.
In Winogrand's second book, Women are Beautiful, he captures most of the women unaware and without their consent. And just as in this image, all were captured up close. He even once remarked, "women interest me. How they look and certainly how they move. And their energy." He made no apologies for his interest in photographing and subsequently, objectifying women. He saw no issue with what he was doing because there was no malice behind it, just an attempt to capture an interesting shot. As if in defiance of Winogrand's physical intrusion into her space, the woman's hardened expression and determined body stance combat the idea of women as passive subject, and thus contributes to the image's overall dynamism. The tension, between viewing women as passive objects and the woman's body language that actively resists this assumption in this image, gets to the heart of the era's rampant sexism and the rise of the fight for gender equality. It is for this reason the power of Winogrand's images persist to this day.
Gelatin silver print - Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher
Central Park Zoo
In another of Winogrand's iconic works, Central Park Zoo, a young interracial couple each holds a chimpanzee dressed in children's clothes. Winogrand captures himself in this scene as well - his shadow falls over the man's torso, reminding the viewers of just how close Winogrand got to his subjects. They are impeccably dressed, as if the couple were aware that they would be capturing the attention of their fellow zoo goers.
Taken during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, their mere public presence is very much a political statement. Interracial couples were taunted with the idea that their children would be monkey-like, casting a more serious political statement to the seeming levity of the dressed up chimpanzees. Certainly aware of this, Winogrand presents them in a moment of passing by him, and their implacable facial expressions give this image an ambiguous tone: there is no easy or singular political statement offered here. As Winogrand explains, "there isn't a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability. They do not tell stories. They show you what something looks like to a camera. The minute you relate this thing to what it was photographed it's a lie...It's the illusion of literal description." In this work, Winogrand removes the context, showing just enough of the moment that the viewer can only describe what they are seeing in the image. The racial tensions inherent in this image are in the background, and in so doing, Winogrand normalizes what would have been a rare sight: an interracial couple in public, in addition to their well-dressed chimpanzees.
For Winogrand, photography was about transforming the real world into a distinct image, disconnecting it from its narrative. Because he believed photography's purpose wasn't to tell a story, it was simply to exist, or perhaps, in this image, the right to exist.
Gelatin silver print - Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher
New York City
In the image, activists gather to protest the shootings at Kent State University in Ohio, in which the National Guard killed four students protesting the Vietnam war. In the center of the image is a larger middle-aged man in a hardhat, his mouth open in an angry shout. The microphones of journalists and the American flags punctuate the image and lead the viewer's eye through this chaotic scene. The men in hardhats are part of the 200 construction workers who infiltrated the protest in disgust of the activist's critique of America. Tensions between the two groups quickly escalated, and Winogrand's image captures the moments just before the construction workers began to beat the activists, as the police looked on and did nothing. This event was later coined the Hard Hat Riot of 1970. This image, so indicative of Winogrand's crammed and chaotic aesthetic, became an important work from his third book, Public Relations, published in 1977. This book was an investigation into the effects of the media on turbulent events of the time.
The 1960s and '70s were periods marked by civil unrest throughout the country. African Americans and women were fighting for equality, while activists were protesting the Vietnam War. And for the first time the media was immediately reporting these events to the public, who were watching it all unfold on television. Winogrand, interested in this new phenomenon, set about examining the media's role at these public occasions. He once remarked, "nothing happens without the press. It's all done for it." So rather than capture just the event as a photojournalist would, Winogrand includes members of the media in his photos, making them focal points of the work. In this image, the reporter's microphones intrude into the increasingly tense showdown between the activists and the construction workers. The microphone's physical inclusion in Winogrand's image reminds viewers of the questions being called out by the reporters, which, most likely, incited the violent turn of events. Winogrand was one of the first to explore the relationship between the media and events, and his inclusion of reporters was a novel glimpse into the reality of the social turmoil that Americans watched unfold (primarily from the comfort of their own homes).
Gelatin silver print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
In this image, a horse rears onto hind legs as two ranchers attempt to get it under control. The event is captured by the bright flash of Winogrand's camera. The flash freezes the action of the horse while leaving the background blurred by movement. The wild look of the horse's eye heightens the chaos Winogrand captured in this image. The scene, combined with the tilted frame and blurriness of the image create a feeling of primal instability. One gets the sense that while humans have successfully domesticated animals, they still cannot be completely controlled by us.
This image is from Winogrand's final book, Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, (1977), which was a collection of images that showed the relationship between humans and animals. Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus along with Winogrand became famous when MoMA curator John Szarkowski grouped them together in the 1967 exhibition called "New Documents," and Winogrand's final published work set him apart from his colleagues through its subject matter, while Friedlander and Arbus primarily captured scenes of people and their lived realities, with this work, Winogrand focused primarily on animals and their lived realities.
Winogrand's own rebellious and fast-paced energy often mimicked that of his subject matter. He would quickly look through his viewfinder and then just as quickly, click the shutter. The end result, like in Forth Worth, was an image detached from exactness and obvious design that had previously defined what a "good" photograph was. Rather, Winogrand's fast-paced and seemingly haphazard shooting style gave his works a sense of realism and prescience. Winogrand once remarked, "photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed." This simple yet innovative way of thinking subverted the previous held beliefs about the photographic techniques needed to create a good photo.
Gelatin silver print - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Biography of Garry Winogrand
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.
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 20th-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.
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."
The Legacy of Garry Winogrand
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
Useful Resources on Garry Winogrand
- The Animals
- Garry Winogrand: Public Relations
- Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo