Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable
GARRY WINOGRAND: ALL THINGS ARE PHOTOGRAPHABLE, documentary, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
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