GARRY WINOGRAND: “Standing on the Corner – Reflections Upon Garry Winogrand’s Photographic Gaze – Mirror of Self or World? Part II” (1991)


Part II

(This is the second of a two-part essay on the work of Garry Winogrand.)

By Carl Chiarenza

Originally Published in IMAGE Magazine: Journal of Photography and Motion Pictures of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Volume 35,
Number 1–2, Spring-Summer, 1992

About looking and watching. That is what so many of Winogrand’s pictures are about—about his looking and watching. And that is why I think, in clear disagreement with most other writers on Winogrand, that Women are Beautiful (1975) is the quintessential Winogrand book. Whenever I see it, I immediately hear a voice singing, “Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by.” Yes, it is a sexist work. But that is a fact about Winogrand we must face and accept, if we are to honestly assess his picture-making. Of his books it is the most vibrant and vital; it is the one that most consistently reveals an honest, deep, real commitment.

It is the group of photographs represented in Women are Beautiful that I see when I hear Winogrand’s name. With some important exceptions, including the ones discussed at some length in this essay, the best examples of Winogrand’s art may be contained within this book. It is to the subject of this book that Winogrand brought form and content together in a mutually supportive function or, in the most successful pictures, into a merger or coalition. By “merger or coalition” I mean the same relationship that Winogrand referred to as a contention between form and content. Or, as Szarkowski put it, “Success—the vitality and energy of the best pictures—came from the contention between the anarchic claims of life and the will to form.”1

Of all his books, this is the only one, to my knowledge, that is a result of Winogrand’s own editing. It has no captions, no list of plates or places or dates, no page numbers. It might have been better without Helen Gary Bishop’s autobiographical essay, “First Person, Feminine,” which seems to me to be a weak attempt to pacify an anticipated feminist critical response. Her brief commentary, “Winogrand Women,” and his even briefer, “Winogrand on Women,” are enough. Perhaps even they are not necessary.

I realize that, as Szarkowski has written, this book was received poorly by critics and photographers, and “in retrospect” apparently by Winogrand himself, and that “In general, women disliked the book and men were mystified by it, demonstrating that an artist’s enthusiasms can muddle even the most basic of issues.”2 I am also aware that Winogrand’s daughter called it the work of a male chauvinist pig. It is. Winogrand was a voyeur. But there seems to be no intentional evil, no malice, either in his pictures or in his voyeurism. Making these pictures was more like an open confession, a proclamation. His most voyeuristic pictures (in which his looking is relatively concealed or secretive) were made at parties, and less often in the street. More often than not his presence was made apparent, and just as often his subjects cooperated with (perhaps even encouraged) his attentive camera.3 An interesting thought is brought forth by our knowledge of Winogrand’s disinterest in looking at his own photographs: the viewer is perhaps a greater pictorial voyeur than the photographer was.

Women are Beautiful is about a fact of life in Winogrand’s generation: how, in the new public climate of the 1960s, some women came to dress and behave more openly, actively expressing their sexuality, and how some men, as well as other women and some children, responded to that behavior. All of this was the result of a learned set of Pavlovian responses, long promoted by our socio-cultural system. This fact in the 1960s was, of course, beginning to undergo intense scrutiny by (among others) the women leading a questioning revolution. Both the making of the book and the various feminist responses to it make these pictures more powerfully expressive of that epoch than the pictures in Public Relations. Indeed, some of the strongest pictures in Public Relations would not be out of place within the pages of Women are Beautiful. These observations suggest that this body of pictures of women is more powerfully expressive of Winogrand as an artist and as a person than most of his other work.

The current gender controversy makes the book more difficult to defend; it makes the book itself a controversy. It makes my position as viewer and critic a loaded one. It would be easier for me to claim that Winogrand used women as objects, that he aided and abetted the Madison Avenue habit of exploiting women for the benefit of a male-dominated power- and capital-oriented society. But if we are to find the meaning of Winogrand’s very real and very influential place in the history of the medium, we must accept the fact that a (and very likely, the) major theme of his work is presented in this book, whether the net result, its eventual meaning, will be understood positively or negatively by current and future revisionist social histories.

An uncertain idea about women (and closely related were his deep, if confused, feelings about animal physicality, family, intimacy, marriage, and children) was central to Winogrand’s struggle with life. He knew it, but never understood it (at least not before his last marriage), which may be why he pursued it obsessively. He brought to it his best talents as an artist (and, perhaps, his worst tendencies as a person). Some of his toughest, most re-engaging, most thoroughly original photographs are those reproduced in Women are Beautiful—those that tested and pushed at the contest between the form-content and the representational functions of the medium, those that tested what a “thing” looked like photographed, those that revealed how small and how tilted on any “normal” horizontal axis the primary “thing” could be and still hold the pivotal position within a frame encompassing vast space and a fraction of time.

John Szarkowski may have revealed his understanding of the importance of this work by the eloquence with which he wrote about it in Figments:

“Winogrand told [Tod] Papageorge that in his family, divorce was not a recognized option, and it had not been for him, until the failure of his marriage could no longer be denied. Both the loss of his wife and the loss of his marriage were profound defeats for Winogrand.4″

About 1960 Winogrand had begun to photograph women on the street. The subject remained a major preoccupation for several years until about 1965, when he met his second wife, and it recurred like malaria throughout the rest of his life, possibly as an index of his loneliness, and of his inability either to escape or to satisfy a lust that seemed not, in the contemporary mode, the desire for a rollicking, trouble-free sex life, but some more atavistic need, in which women represented neither pleasure nor companionship, but magic power.3

At this point, Szarkowski recounts Winogrand’s repeatedly told story of his experience with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’s Gaiete Parisienne and “all that flesh!”

However problematic Winogrand’s view of women may have been, the best pictures that he made in celebration of that view were original and compelling, possessed by a vitality and a psychological urgency that is ultimately due less to the subjects than to the pictures: to the electric character of their drawing, and the provisional, almost kinetic nature of their pictorial structure.

Although the book was not a complete success, perhaps because it was not a complete success, Winogrand remained deeply interested in it, and spoke, possibly in jest, of a sequel, which he threatened to call Son of Women are Beautiful. It was typical of him that he was most interested in those parts of his work that were the most problematic.

The frontispiece of the book (figure 1) sets the tone. It is straightforward: we (Winogrand) stand, in an elevator, opposite an attractive (as defined by our socio-cultural constructs) young woman provocatively dressed in a revealing, short, knit dress. She smiles self-consciously and knowingly, but somewhat uncomfortably, with that slight discomfort many of us feel when enclosed in an elevator with strangers, even without cameras in their hands. Her arms are at her sides, covering nothing. She knows and we know. She shows, we look. The electrical game we all learned, and most of us accepted, is in operation. She has the magic power. Or so it looks photographed. We know the other side of that coin: how that power can and does backfire. We know its sublimated fear, its potential disaster. We could go on to speculate about equal rights, childhood acculturation and training, fashion magazines, commodity fetishism, objectification of female sexuality, the “real” power of the gaze, camera as weapon, invasion of privacy, perhaps even rape. But what this looks like photographed (and without any special Winograndian device or structural scheme, for it is a simple picture) is what public life in our time and culture not only looks like, but often is. Of course, what it is, what we see, what women wear and do in our time and culture is often based on what it looks like photographed for Madison Avenue’s clients.

And so it goes in this book, from simple to complex confrontations and reactions—constructions of bits and pieces, and of seemingly vast and crowded wholes. There are regular moments of pause as another simple, quiet structure, a simple idea, interrupts the stretches of pictures in which Winogrand’s more familiar signature bangs away at, to paraphrase Szarkowski, the idea of a picture that seems to shake in its frame, splaying the essence of the chaos that is life. One such picture is the famous one in which a woman stands with one leg raised in a precariously tipped telephone booth at the center surface of a “tilted” frame (figure 2).6

The book ends with another famous picture, which centers on the release expressed by the great, open laugh of a woman holding an ice cream cone in front of a store window containing a neatly attired, but headless and legless, male mannikin—and a reflection of, among others, the voyeur himself, Winogrand, making the picture (figure 3). It is difficult not to want to find the meaning of this picture lurking somewhere in the relationship suggested between the woman’s laugh, the well-dressed torso-mannequin, and the ghostly apparition of Winogrand himself. But a good deal of that kind of speculation is dissipated when one sees other frames (the rejected sketches?) made at the scene moments before this one (figures 4 and 5).

In the other frames the mannequin is “replaced” by an actual male companion who also holds an ice cream cone, and who is engaged in animated conversation with the woman. Now her laugh seems to be related to that conversation, not a direct response to the photographer. On the other hand we may suppose that the conversation that spawned the laugh was a conversation about the actions of the photographer, who, we know from the other frames, has moved 360 degrees around this couple, and therefore was very likely observed. Other frames, curiously, are more typical of Winogrand’s familiar style: in them the woman is centered in the foreground up close, the deep street space behind her is teeming with a chorus of people made small by the spatial depiction produced by the camera’s optical system; and in one the horizon is precariously tipped, bringing a greater anxiety to the dynamics of the couple’s relationship.

The print presented as the finished work (figure 3) shows the street’s chaotic activity only at the extreme left edge, from which (and from her companion) she is now isolated, segregated, in a world of her own, spatially limited by the store window backdrop behind her. This context suggests portrait-like intimacy between photographer and subject. The structure is stabilized; the action is no longer chaotic; the focus is magnetically centered on the laugh, a laugh as ambiguous as Mona Lisa’s smile. The viewer is free to accept it as either a positive or negative response to Winogrand’s attention. Once again one of Winogrand’s most powerful photographs is atypical; once again a woman is its pivotal force, both as form and as content.

But Women are Beautiful is not the equivalent of The Americans any more than is Public Relations. There is no reason either should be. And, the only reason this comparison is raised at all is because Garry Winogrand has been projected as “the central photographer of his generation.” To so promote Winogrand is unfair to him, to us, to the history of the medium, and to the historical image of a nation.

With all the support of The Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Foundation, good printers, editors, and sequencers, Winogrand was not able to leave us with a single tough, intelligent, resonant book through which we could reengage, enlarge, redress, even fictionalize, that significant cultural upheaval we refer to as “The Sixties.” Perhaps the complexity of the sixties, its chaos, its contingent existentialism, was too much even for the camera of someone who, in so many respects—particularly his detached, uncommitted, and apolitical position, and his presence as an older member of the “Me Generation”—seemed perfectly suited for the job. Perhaps his macho-like obsessions interfered as much with his work as they did with his life.

We probably expected too much from Garry Winogrand. I even suspect he eventually became aware of the expectation, and that expectation brought with it too much pressure, too much thought—a burden that finally interfered with his intuitive approach. Winogrand seems to have lived most of his life on the surface of a pictured, fictional, fantasized reality. For some, certainly that was what social life in the sixties was. Life for those folks was without central point, without idea and intellect, without passion, without engagement; it was focused inward rather than outward. But for others, the cry was, “Which side are you on, brother?” For them there were only national or global life-and-death issues, commitment and conflict, real goals, real gains, and real losses.

Winogrand had a big appetite that was unfulfilled. His voyeurism speaks of frustration, and occasionally of bitterness. His humor is often sad. It is street humor, universally critical, and sometimes cheap. But occasionally the sheer pleasure of an existential, purposeless absorption into seemingly infinite visual incidents overwhelms all negative connotations. See, for example, the rarely reproduced picture of four relatively elderly women walking past a group of stuffed plastic garbage bags at the curb (figure 6).7 But then notice how otherwise rich in amazing details this picture is: move your eyes from the four sets of feet, to hands and gloves, to facial expressions, to the attractive young woman in the middle distance framed precisely in the center of the group of four and under the marquee that reads “The FRANCONIA,” back to the plastic-bag-like bodies of that group, to the bags, to the little dog doing its natural thing at the foot of one of the bags, and then to the full expanse of city life surrounding these incidents, and finally, notice how the tipped camera energizes this otherwise ordinary, even “uneventful,” scene.

You may sense a contradiction in what I have just recounted. It is there. What began as a sense of cheap humor (perhaps exploitation) ends in a rich feast for the eye. There is no final meaning. It is pure, visual experience, not unrelated to the vicarious visual experience gained from the writing of Alain Robbe-Grillet.8 It is voyeurism without malice. It has nothing to do, really, with the period as a cultural watershed, but in a curious way it has something to do with the changes in perception and picturing that did begin in that period. Winogrand did contribute in this way to the broader acceptance of photography as the “fictional” medium it had always been, an acceptance that matches precisely my own acceptance of Winogrand as an artist.

The book that reveals what happens when Winogrand could not problematize his way out of boredom is his last book, Stock Photographs (1980) (once again orchestrated by Tod Papageorge). With rare exception, the only pictures in this book that are not boring, sad, or blank (no matter how tilted) are those in which the content centers on women and partying. A few of the exceptions convey a great sadness, a strange ominousness, or a terrible fear (the rodeo sequence on pages 85-99 is about fear, not bravery or excitement). The depressing blankness that appeared in the work of Winogrand’s last years is prefigured here. An overwhelming sense of ennui pervades the book as a whole (see figures 7-11).

Having no personal experience of stock shows and rodeos, I cannot speak for how the photographs relate to actual events. But Winogrand’s photographs seem to convey the impression that they are, or have become, joyless rituals performed without commitment—almost without interest. The last four pictures in the book are especially poignant: the first of these is a portrait of a man and his animal, both of whom express an overwhelming emotion of defeat (figure 7). The last three form a powerful mini-sequence of clowns in a bull ring. The fear is palpable (see, for example, figures 10 and 11). They are, for me, typical of the very occasional breakthrough images that Winogrand was to make in the last decade of his life, images that seem to prove his conviction that letting go completely might lead to a revelation about life in the look of a thing photographed. In the last picture, a clown is (apparently) thrown into a field of blackest space (oblivion?) by the bull. These last four pictures are a strange summation of the book. Was their placement Papageorge’s decision, or Winogrand’s? They seem especially autobiographical. For me, Stock Photographs is about decline and fall. But whose? In retrospect, it would seem to have been about Winogrand’s own. One wonders how conscious he was of what his life (his work) was beginning to look like in these photographs.

Being out of New York City for any length of time was for Winogrand like being a fish out of water. Friends were aware of this and tried to persuade him to return. Why he didn’t remains a mystery. His actions seem to suggest that he knew that the New York City of his soul was dead, that something had passed, and was over.

There was talk of producing a book out of his endless rolls of film exposed in airports. I think there is a good reason for that not having happened. The twenty-five airport pictures in Figments are accurate documents of the boredom many of us experience while waiting. Generally speaking, most of Winogrand’s airport spaces look photographed the way they feel while we wait in the limbo of their real counterparts. But the tension, the emotion of that waiting is not expressed by either content or form here. In most of these spaces, the oxygen has been sucked out; in the people, vitality is absent. For the most part, neither the spaces nor the people represented in these pictures engage our curiosity for very long. They are animated with little depth and with few sparks. Whereas on city streets Winogrand had found and pictured vitality in people between places, people engaging with the superficialities and accidents of being nowhere in particular, he seemed to fail more in airports.

The exceptions here are pictures that bring to mind those successful pictures made elsewhere and at other times.9 But comparing Winogrand’s aggressive, confrontational presence (and the choreography of his and his subjects’ “dance”) in his best pictures, with his casual detachment in most of the airport pictures, will reveal why “airport” as a theme fails. Compare, for example, pictures of people sitting on a bench (figure 12 versus figure 13), or pictures of a situation including a handicapped person.10 Winogrand’s great pictures are rich catalysts that continue to enlarge upon the initial engagement of the viewer’s imagination. The response to most of the airport pictures trails off into the boredom that so often accompanies the actual time we spend waiting in airports. Of course, some may see this as the purpose, and thus an admission of the success of the series. But for this viewer the elements of Winogrand’s strength and quality are missing. There is neither the anarchic claim of life nor the will to form of art threading these pictures together. They could not be further removed from what at base was the inspiration for his work: “… movement, flesh, gesture, display, … faces. . . .a world that is full of visceral energy and a smouldering beauty that lies close to violence.”11

If we view the Stock and Airport pictures as Winogrand’s late or revised vision of the American social landscape, then we might see a return of Robert Frank’s vision of an alienated society in the bleakest of terms: a society that had given up the fight. The hopes and visions of the sixties will have to be seen as destroyed fantasies. The future of humanity will have to be seen as bleak, perhaps hopeless.

I don’t remember where I read it or heard it, but I recall that Winogrand said he would rather watch the Knicks beat the Lakers on TV than look at his photographs. He seemed to avoid facing the pictures of the world he photographed as much as he avoided facing the world itself. He said that when he photographed he generally backed up rather than moved in, he avoided contact with people he photographed and approached them with anxiety and discomfort. He said that he didn’t create, but instead had to find his pictures where something was happening.12

Winogrand rarely entered the worlds he photographed. He remained detached, alienated, left out; one could say he remained the unfulfilled voyeur, repressed and frustrated. Using the camera in lieu of actual engagement (as the tourist does) does not satisfy the need for experience, for intimacy, for family. Indeed it spawns sarcasm, satire, envy, and a kind of defensive arrogance, the creation of superficial illusions, and, perhaps, self-illusions. Paradoxically, one of the rewards of studying Winogrand’s photographs seriously is the suggestion those photographs make to us that we should face and attempt to understand our own illusions, prejudices, performances, and realities. Winogrand’s photographs also seem to tell us to loosen up, let go, honestly let our feelings out-express them, share them. It is as if Winogrand did that continue to enlarge upon the initial engagement of the viewer’s imagination. The response to most of the airport pictures trails off into the boredom that so often accompanies the actual time we spend waiting in airports. Of course, some may see this as the purpose, and thus an admission of the success of the series. But for this viewer the elements of Winogrand’s strength and quality are missing. There is neither the anarchic claim of life nor the will to form of art threading these pictures together. They could not be further removed from what at base was the inspiration for his work: “… movement, flesh, gesture, display, … faces. . . .a world that is full of
visceral energy and a smouldering beauty that lies close to violence.”11

If we view the Stock and Airport pictures as Winogrand’s late or revised vision of the American social landscape, then we might see a return of Robert Frank’s vision of an alienated society in the bleakest of terms: a society that had given up the fight. The hopes and visions of the sixties will have to be seen as destroyed fantasies. The future of humanity will have to be seen as bleak, perhaps hopeless.

I don’t remember where I read it or heard it, but I recall that Winogrand said he would rather watch the Knicks beat the Lakers on TV than look at his photographs. He seemed to avoid facing the pictures of the world he photographed as much as he avoided facing the world itself. He said that when he photographed he generally backed up rather than moved in, he avoided contact with people he photographed and approached them with anxiety and discomfort. He said that he didn’t create, but instead had to find his pictures where something was happening.12

Winogrand rarely entered the worlds he photographed. He remained detached, alienated, left out; one could say he remained the unfulfilled voyeur, repressed and frustrated. Using the camera in lieu of actual engagement (as the tourist does) does not satisfy the need for experience, for intimacy, for family. Indeed it spawns sarcasm, satire, envy, and a kind of defensive arrogance, the creation of superficial illusions, and, perhaps, self-illusions. Paradoxically, one of the rewards of studying Winogrand’s photographs seriously is the suggestion those photographs make to us that we should face and attempt to understand our own illusions, prejudices, performances, and realities. Winogrand’s photographs also seem to tell us to loosen up, let go, honestly let our feelings out-express them, share them. It is as if Winogrand did this in his photography because he could not do it in life. Locked out of a fulfilling relationship in life by inhibition, fear, and phobia, he found freedom in risking failure in picture-making: he was willing to
surrender to happenstance and accept what something looked like photographed by chance.

Winogrand’s pictures can be ambiguous enough to allow the viewer’s imagination to fantasize, to invent, or to impose personal analogy. But perhaps his best pictures expose his own personal needs and fantasies about women, children, and families, or perhaps they expose his fears of loss, deformity, incapacity, and aging. Others more grossly tell of his attraction to sexuality; to big, fast, shiny, or sporty cars; or to the trappings, activities, and power of the elite, the famous, and the wealthy. Winogrand did display real compassion for, and a gentle tenderness towards children; an uncertain compassion for the halt, the lame, the disfigured; a distant curiosity about the elderly. The one subject of the late work that seemed more often than not to convey a sign of hope for the future was that of young children, including his daughter. But even this subject was often enough seen under a cloud of ominous uncertainty or danger. About problems of race, class, gender, or the hard politics of war and economics, he revealed almost no concern at all. He remained forever imprisoned within a conflicted awe of women, fluctuating between arrogant aggression
and confused adulation.

Looking at the work he produced in the 1950s, my sense is that though the photographs may be simpler in construction, they are tougher—gritty, probing, engaged. They are darker in content, tone, and in mood than the later works. The work of the 1960s seems, in comparison, to reflect the outlook of a brash adolescent—the curious teenager out on the street, searching. And the work of his last decade seems more and more to be the vision of a misfit, increasingly detached, rudderless, painful. It is the vision of an adult who was lost, or a mind that no
longer was convinced of a purpose beyond maintaining a pace of activity, and a mind that was less and less frequently able to make renewed contact with its youth. Winogrand, never one to slow down and consider, was even less concerned with doing so in his last years. He often left the consideration of what he was doing to others. At the end, he took that inclination to its extreme realization, not even
processing his film.

There is, of course, the possibility that the “process” of these late years represents the final letting go, relinquishing even the control of the restricting frame of the camera’s viewfinder, to accept and embrace a more complete kind of freedom. Certainly he knew that the success rate of picture to exposure would tend toward the ridiculous. But successes would be there for those who needed to see them in finished form. Winogrand must have no longer needed, or wanted, to see what he already knew. To some extent, the thrill, the release, the art had, for him, always been in the act of making the camera exposure. He must have felt that he no longer needed to justify that act with a public document in the form of a print. In truth it seems he no longer had any interest in taking responsibility for anything beyond the process of releasing the shutter. He knew, finally, how things he photographed would look in his photographs.

Seeing what Winogrand’s successful photographs from the late seventies and early eighties look like, I feel that they represent some of the saddest work I have ever seen. I suspect he also felt that way.

In the “unfinished” work we see in Figments, Winogrand seems to have finally discovered how little incident can be included in a picture before it falls apart, before it proves that some “things” just don’t look photographed any more than they look seen. In most of the very late work, the characteristic vitality of Winogrand’s sixties pictures is gone. In those pictures there is no incident to speak of, no flesh, no critique, no dynamic structure, no near-far rush, no gesture, no expression, no electrical tension between elements (hands, arms, legs, lips, eyes, bodies, postures)—neither in space nor on the surface.

In his later work, Winogrand was not out there touching with his eyes, he was far away (in a moving car), so detached as to make his earlier detachment appear to be intimacy. All desire is gone. The photographs are bloodless, except for those in which the subjects attack the photographer with their eyes or those that are pale imitations of earlier work, now a mannerism, often with a weak sexuality or a mean exchange with passersby most of whom seem without energy or interest themselves.
Only one proof sheet from Winogrand’s last few years, during which he made “more than a third of a million exposures that he never looked at,”13 is reproduced in Figments.14 It appears to have come from negatives made from a camera attached to a moving car and preset to make random exposures. We recognize them as Winogrands because of the tilt and because of the regular appearance of women and cars as the primary objects of his attention—even when they occupy so minute a portion of the 35mm negative as to require a magnifying glass to see them. His interest in them had finally begun to recede, but not disappear.

Often he would begin to photograph an attractive woman—or a woman that his long distance intuition told him was attractive— when she was still half a block away. Surely he was interested in the formal photographic problem: What was the greatest distance at which she could be convincingly described? Perhaps, consciously or not, he was also trying to make a photograph that would justly express the true relationship between him and her.15

There is probably no reasonable way to speculate on the contents of such an immensity of unknown work. But assuming that what is reproduced in Figments is at least a relatively accurate sampling, one must conclude that Winogrand had premonitions about the nearness of the end of his life, or about his inability to move his work beyond a mannerist exercise and a repetitious routine—or both.

The work reproduced exudes an enervating surrender, which appears, on occasion, to have been the subject matter of individual photographs: “Maine (PC 197), ca. 1980-81,” “New York City (14162), ca. 1980-82,” and “Santa Monica, California” (figure 14) are such photographs which, to me, appear to be the self-portraits of a tired and defeated man. In “Santa Monica” the older man struggles up a stairway, moving away from the young couple who stare and smile at the photographer from a lower level. The picture is painful to view under any circumstances. But understanding the circumstances of Winogrand’s life as represented in the larger body of work makes its subject all the more personal—makes it in fact a self-portrait—which makes the pain all the more unbearable. Unhappiness marks pictures of men (fathers?) with children. Women no longer convey a vital spark; more often they respond to the photographer with meanness. Sexuality is sad, mean, violent, or depressing (figure 15). People are lost or confused, or are uncertain of their identities.

One of the late pictures, “Art Laboe, Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles (PC 784), 1981″ (figure 16), begs for comparison with earlier works. Laboe, within a cage-like barricade, kneels before his star-imbedded slab (kneels before his image), while a small group of the curious watch from outside the barrier. The scene is a replica of Winogrand’s early 1960s zoo pictures (see figure 17). The fame of the celebrity is as hollow as the life of the caged animal: it’s all facade and performance geared to the lustful eye of the voyeur. Like the zoo pictures, this photograph is all content—sad content, with little if any substance— and quickly grasped without the aid of form.

Compare the photograph “Art Laboe” (figure 16) with “Los Angeles, California, 1969″ (figure 18), which was also made on Hollywood Boulevard, and discussed at some length in Part I of this essay (Image, vol. 34, nos. 3-4). The picture made in 1969 is at once a complex event and a complex object new to the world; the photograph made in 1981 is a representation of a simple observation purposely made available to any photographer (journalist or tourist) on the street.

When I read Szarkowski’s essay for Figments, I could feel his disappointment as he discussed looking at the thousands of images left unseen by Winogrand, images that so clearly pointed to a terrible decline at the end of his life. As I read, I could not help but recall my own exhausting experience of looking through the 16,000 prints from Winogrand’s middle and early years—prints he owned, and most of which he probably made. Most of the prints are terrible, pictorially and/or technically. The percentage of successful frames Winogrand made was clearly never very large. The end may have been simply the worst case of what had long been a kind of mad gluttony, or blind faith in luck. Or, knowing he no longer cared about, could move forward in, or find a new direction for the work, he simply continued to work the camera out of a ritualistically enforced habit.

Few of the thousands of prints I viewed had the magic union of form and content that exists in those amazing and exceptional pictures that come into our mind’s view when we think of Winogrand’s work. I will never get over how much film the man had to expose in order to get the ones that worked. And it leaves me with a haunting sense of the importance of George Bernard Shaw’s famous analogy between a photographer’s negatives and the codfish’s eggs, and also with a forceful sense of the importance of thinking about and learning to know the difference between a sketch and a finished photograph.

The medium makes it difficult for anyone, including the photographer, to distinguish between sketch and finished work. This line of reasoning underscores one of the major issues that artists using photography rather than traditional media face: how to distinguish between the sketch and the finished work. For photographers like Cartier-Bresson, Friedlander, and Winogrand, whose work is founded upon the idea of capturing a momentary configuration from the continuously active flux of public life, the process of creating a succession of negatives inevitably concludes with the selection of one of those negatives (sketches) from a proof sheet. That negative then becomes the source of the finished work. But the process is also open to the overproduction of exposures. It is easy to decide to make negatives even when there is little promise of an acceptable picture, leaving that decision to the later examination of proof sheets. Worse, many photographers find it difficult to accept the necessity of ruthlessly editing these sketches, and end up overproducing unsuccessful prints, which, due to the same weakness, find their way to publication and exhibition. In such situations the power of the best work is diminished by association.

Now it is true that even artists in other media overproduce; that is, most of their work too is not of the same calibre as their own best work. No artist can produce a major work every time a picture (not a sketch) is made. No artist is strong enough (nor usually financially stable enough) to discard every work that falls short of the best. Why then press, or even raise, the issue with photographers? With Winogrand? Because photography lends itself to an overwhelming exaggeration of the problem: new technology is increasingly being made to encourage mindless exposure of film. When, late in his career, Winogrand attached a motor drive to his camera, it made a tragic disease of his tendency to overproduce. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice he lost what little control he had. The technology of painting generally restricts the probability of this situation occurring (though there have been painters who have worked hard to override that restriction-Picasso comes to mind).

After seeing thousands of pictures, I concluded that Winogrand was essentially a mediocre photographer who occasionally got lucky. As soon as 1 was thoroughly convinced of that, and disgusted to the point of throwing in the towel, I would come upon a magic picture and feel the truth of how Winogrand had managed to take clues from Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, Dan Weiner, Weegee, Feingersh, and numerous others (less and less, it seemed to me, from Frank, Evans, and Callahan), and changed the course of what we have come to call “street” or “social landscape” photography. But the cost was high.

What Winogrand was interested in seeing photographed was quite clear to me when I finished. Winogrand documented his social reality. What we can learn from his work, among other things, is the importance of having a sense of the difference between what we say and do, what we say and feel, what we hide and what we reveal. The work clearly reflects Winogrand’s awareness of his own conflicts. And I think it is fair to say that what has been shown and reproduced is an honest presentation of that.
His good and close friend, Lee Friedlander (who apparently urged Winogrand to do the Women are Beautiful book) seems, in retrospect, to have understood all of the issues, ideas, and possibilities of “street photography” and “social landscape” that Winogrand did not. Both understood the futility, in their time, of using photography as an activating tool of social documentary. Both understood that photography was a picturemaking tool, different perhaps in some important respects, but one that essentially followed from a long and entrenched history of picturemaking, which was mired in the conventions, customs, and traditions of western civilization.

In the end, however, I think it was Friedlander who maintained the closer contact with a changing world, with changing ideas and practices, with changing social relations. It was Friedlander who moved from surface to substance. It was Friedlander who delved deeply into both photography and a general view of humanity, and who was, eventually, able to escape complete enslavement by his own psychology. It was Friedlander who understood the relevancy of history both to the medium and to people. It was Friedlander who became another exception to the observation (rule) that few photographers have been able to sustain a potent career with the medium for more than ten years. Winogrand, by accident or by design, fit the rule.

But this is too easy an out. Winogrand was an extraordinary picturemaker at the peak of his decade of potency. He was, in addition, the catalyst to a significant turn in the use and understanding of the medium. Though very few of his direct descendants in the following two generations were able to significantly expand his vision, many learned so well how to do what he did that they began to match, if not to surpass, him at his own game. Of the few who were able to move beyond imitation, perhaps Mark Cohen was the most innovative in his use of what he inherited. In 1972, a promising and precocious young follower, William Doherty unfortunately died at age 32, before he had a chance to make his case. Others, such as Bill Zulpo-Dane and Henry Wessel, Jr., seem to have received as much from Friedlander as from Winogrand. Most of the others produced pale imitations that no longer seem relevant.

A peculiar current connection with Winogrand’s method has been made by the camera industry’s frantic rush to produce more and more “fully automatic” cameras. These cameras have caused a number of their users to push such Winograndian characteristics as the tilt to an extreme, leading to the kind of mannered fragmentation and harsh framing of chance incidents that can be seen in Ken Heyman’s recent book, Hipshot.16 Most of this kind of work lacks any coherent thread, as if any action that happens to coincide with the click of the shutter is worthy of picturing. But the most peculiar appearance of a Winogrand-like tilted view of a New York City street corner happened two years ago as part of a “… series of black-and-white stills flashed against a jazz score” for the opening sequence of NBC’s Tattinger’s. The photograph depicts a typical Winogrand scene, but with a significant difference: the photographer, Jeffrey Scales, staged the whole thing for his camera!17

There are many artists, more difficult to trace because they are neither imitators nor followers in the narrow sense, artists who have come to understand, because of Winogrand’s example, that a so-called “straight” photograph is, or at least can be, a picture of a fantasy about one’s self and/or one’s world. This fact was brought home to me with a bit of a shock when Joyce Neimanas told me that one of the major factors motivating her use of the medium of photography, in her practice as a young multimedia artist, was seeing the fantasies choreographed within Winogrand’s photographic frames.

Certainly Winogrand gave us more than “what a thing looks like photographed,” the phrase he repeated like a mantra—repeated so long that perhaps at some point he really believed that that was his sole motivation. At the end he seems to have increasingly lost contact with, or discarded some aspects of, his original aggressiveness. At the end he often seems to have become one with the camera
machine, as if allowing it to mass produce frames of nothingness—pictures of emptiness, of a world emptied of its frenzy and chaos, a world empty even of basic animal desire. His quest, his obsession, his need, his drive, his curiosity, softened. The machine was more accepting, less intent on problematizing the uninteresting, as if to sense some kind of value or meaning in the fact of a world largely without attractive incident. Perhaps this was an inevitable consequence of Winogrand’s master program, which had, itself, a huge tolerance for blanks. At the end he did not even follow through to see, nor to let us see, what the things he photographed looked like photographed.

Risk and chance. Raw intuition. A single surface idea. Courageous, but finally, a cover behind which Winogrand could no longer hide or escape. It protected, if it did not explain, his anguish, his agony. It is as though he never knew what he had done and had never really understood his own insight. Perhaps, after all, he had too often depended upon the opinion of others in his apparently conscious effort not to get too close to the meaning his pictures may have held for himself.

Has the view presented in his work become ours? Is it or was it a middle American view of the 1960s? Or is it a view that a new generation is projecting back on the world because they learned it from his pictures?

Did Winogrand live the life of his photographs? Was his life a sequence of vicarious experiences? How different are they from the vicarious (and, one might say, voyeuristic) experiences that all of us sighted people engage in, voluntarily and involuntarily, throughout our days and nights as we look and dream. No matter how familiar his view has become, Winogrand’s pictorial experiences were much more highly selected than ours, notwithstanding the obsessive compulsion that forced him to expose film daily to the point at which he could leave behind a third of a million framed looks unseen even by himself.

There is, and was, more behind the public facades, faces, fronts, performances, covers, games, nastinesses, and stage-grabbinesses of those women, men, children, buffoons, and gorillas that inhabit his pictures; there was, once, more behind the postures of Winogrand. The clown has always been the facade of one who cries alone.

Dr. Carl Chiarenza is a photographer, critic, and historian. His photographs have been exhibited internationally and are in most major collections. He is the author of numerous essays and the critical biography Aaron Siskind: Pleasures and Terrors (1982). A monograph on his work, Chiarenza: Landscapes of the Mind, was published in 1988. He is currently the Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester.

END NOTES

1 John Szarkowski, ed., Winogrand: Figments from the Real World (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1988), p. 21.
2 Ibid., p. 20.
3 In terms of the pictures reproduced in Figments, Szarkowski seems to have played down Winogrand’s photography of women, in number and in content. While it is true that many other pictures in the book are actually about women, the group of pictures in the portfolio section called “WOMEN” number only thirteen, the smallest number of any of the nine sections in the portfolio. For a selection of the kind of photographs I have referred to, thumb through Women are Beautiful, which, unfortunately is unpaged.
4 Figments, pp. 20-21.
5 Ibid., pp. 14-15.
6 In the portfolio Garry Winogrand, published by Hyperion Press Ltd. in 1972, this picture is number 11, titled “New York, 1972.” It is also reproduced in the Winogrand portfolio, A Candid Look at Women, pp. 28-36 in Photography Year, 1974 (New York: Time-Life Books, 1974), p. 31.
7 This photograph has been reproduced on the cover of the exhibition catalog Garry Winogrand (El Cajon, CA: Grossmont College Gallery, 1976). Victor Burgin interprets it differently in his essay “Seeing Sense,” in his book The End of Art Theory: Criticism and Postmodernity (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1986), pp. 51-70. On page 64 he writes, “But what the world ‘is’ depends extensively upon how it is described: in a culture where the expression ‘old bag’ is in circulation to describe an aging woman that is precisely what she is in perpetual danger of ‘being.’ Neither the photographer, nor the medium, nor the subject, are basically responsible for the meaning of this photograph, the meaning is produced, in the act of looking at the image, by a way of talking.” See also an earlier version in Burgin’s “Photography, Phantasy, Function” in Burgin, ed., Thinking Photography (London: MacMillan, 1982), pp. 177-216. (I would like to thank Jeff Rosen for recalling this essay to my attention.)
8 See, for example, Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur, trans. Richard Howard, (New York: Grove Press, 1958).
9 See, for example, Figments, p. 217.
10 Compare, for example, “Los Angeles, California, 1969″ (figure 18) with “Los Angeles Airport, n.d.” (in Figments, p. 212).
11 Szarkowski, in Figments, p. 17. See also Goldsmith, passim.
12 This may have come from Winogrand’s slide lecture at the Center for Creative Photography in 1982.
13 Szarkowski, in Figments, p. 36.
14 Ibid., p. 37.
15 Szarkowski, in Figments, p. 38.
16 (New York: Aperture, 1988).
17 Jane S. Chou, “Still Opener Jazzes TV,” American Photographer, vol. 22, no. 3 (March 1989), p. 6. In the mid-distance, the actress, Blythe Danner, with two golden retrievers, is about to descend from a curb onto the street; in the foreground a man carting a briefcase is entering the street from the corner curb; and four other people are placed at various depths on the sidewalk behind Danner and the man.

Carl Chiarenza

www.carlchiarenza.com

Email: carl.chiarenza@gmail.com

George Eastman House

www.geh.org

BOOKS: Garry Winogrand

* Public Relations (2004)
* Figments From The Real World (2005)
* Arrivals & Departures: The Airport Pictures of Garry Winogrand (2003)
* The Man in the Crowd: The Uneasy Streets of Garry Winogrand (1999)
* Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo (1980)

Around the WEB: Garry Winogrand

* MoCP: Garry Winogrand
* Getty Museum: Garry Winogrand
* Wikipedia
* Artnet
* Washington Post: Garry Winogrand – Huge Influence, Early Exit
* Black & White World – Coffee and Workprints:
A Workshop With Garry Winogrand

* MoMA: Garry Winogrand

ASX CHANNEL: Garry Winogrand

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