Garry Wino­grand: All Things Are Pho­tograph­able

GARRY WINO­GRAND: ALL THINGS ARE PHO­TOGRAPH­ABLE, doc­u­men­tary, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Anointed as “the cen­tral pho­tog­ra­pher of his gen­er­a­tion” by none other than Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art pho­tog­ra­phy cu­ra­tor John Szarkowski, Bronx-born Garry Wino­grand (1928-1984) was one of the most in­flu­en­tial pho­tog­ra­phers of the Amer­i­can so­cial scene in the mid-20th cen­tury — as well as one of the most pro­lific. This film by Sasha Wa­ters Freyer sit­u­ates the artist among other bards of mid­cen­tury Amer­i­can cul­ture such as Nor­man Mailer, plac­ing Wino­grand’s work in the con­text of im­por­tant pho­tog­ra­phers of the Amer­i­can scene that in­clude Walker Evans and Robert Frank.

Wino­grand was self-taught, and took up pho­tog­ra­phy by chance at a time when the only out­lets for his pic­tures were news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. Though he was ded­i­cated to the cam­era as a tool of de­scrip­tion, his fas­ci­na­tion with the fleet­ing jux­ta­po­si­tions and un­staged dra­mas of ev­ery­day life were un­suited to ed­i­to­rial work. Us­ing a 35mm cam­era and black-and-white film (he tried color but found it slow and ex­pen­sive), he be­gan work­ing spec­u­la­tively on the streets of New York City, mak­ing pic­tures to please him­self and thereby de­vel­op­ing street pho­tog­ra­phy into a vi­able art form.

The film of­fers many first­hand per­spec­tives on Wino­grand. It is also rich with the artist’s own dis­tinc­tive voice, in­clud­ing his many pithy pro­nounce­ments about pho­tog­ra­phy. Not one to phi­los­o­phize, he fa­mously de­clared, “I pho­to­graph to find out what some­thing will look like pho­tographed.” His abun­dant body of work — bags of un­de­vel­oped film were found af­ter his death — bears out but also tran­scends this ap­par­ent tau­tol­ogy, re­veal­ing the United States in the midst of de­seg­re­ga­tion, a pop­u­la­tion boom, eco­nomic pros­per­ity, and shift­ing val­ues. This flux, and the visual chaos that it en­gen­dered, were his pri­mary sub­ject mat­ter. Wino­grand also grasped the idea of pub­lic life as spec­ta­cle, rec­og­niz­ing that for a gen­er­a­tion brought up on tele­vi­sion and ad­ver­tis­ing, ac­tual events were less im­por­tant than the images made of it.

Wino­grand’s dis­ap­point­ment with the state of Amer­i­can cul­ture af­ter World War II comes through strongly in his ap­pli­ca­tion for a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship in the early 1960s. Cit­ing con­cern over avid con­sumerism and mil­i­tarism, he sought to discover “who we are and how we feel and what is to be­come of us.” His un­will­ing­ness to ac­cept the bleak con­clu­sion of wide­spread cul­tural bank­ruptcy may be part of what stim­u­lated his ob­ses­sive pic­ture mak­ing. He got up ev­ery morn­ing and went out to see what he could find, not as an in­vis­i­ble voyeur but as an en­gaged par­tic­i­pant.

“What does pho­tog­ra­phy do bet­ter than any­thing else but de­scribe?” Wino­grand says in the film. “To use it for any­thing else is very fool­ish.” And de­scribe he did, us­ing thou­sands of rolls of films to ex­am­ine the world around him, hop­ing for re­demp­tion. At its best, his work re­veals that we are not com­pletely hopeless, af­ter all, and cel­e­brates the beauty and mys­tery of our ab­surd and im­per­fect lives. — Kather­ine Ware

Garry Wino­grand, 1965; photo Judy Teller

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