- The Animals
- Garry Winogrand: Public Relations
- Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo
Important Art by Garry Winogrand
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.
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.
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.