New Mexico, 1957 (Figure 13)
Originally Published in IMAGE Magazine: Journal of Photography and Motion Pictures of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Volume 34,
Number 3–4, Fall–Winter, 1991
Sometimes an idea gets the better of us as individuals, as professionals, as artists, as essayers of a period, as prophets. Sometimes such an idea, powerfully hacked and promoted, dominates a period in progress. But when later assessed, the idea may come up short, be sadly lacking in sustaining force, and may seem limited, even narrow in its focus.
Garry Winogrand’s premature death seven years ago was tragic and troubling. He was too young to die. He had not yet worked through what was clearly a very difficult passage in his photographic work. To want to eulogize him and his work seems natural. To want to assess his career in positive terms seems reasonable. To find oneself torn by the feeling that an honest assessment might expose something that is less than had been anticipated has, however, become the reality of the task at hand.
Witness John Szarkowski’s text for the monumental book, Winogrand: Figments from the Real World,1 that accompanied the retrospective exhibition put forth at The Museum of Modern Art in 1988. Szarkowski, while not the first, was certainly Winogrand’s greatest champion and supporter. My reading of Szarkowski’s text suggests that he was faced with a dilemma: the work of Winogrand’s last years forced doubt to enter into his review. The text is one of Szarkowski’s toughest pieces of writing: one can feel his struggle as one reads. And that is a clear indication of a problem, for Szarkowski’s extraordinary abilities with language—the poetry and elegance of his prose, its easy flow, its sense of a natural outpouring of deeply felt responses to photographs and to their makers—these abilities of his are legend. Not so here. In this summary of Winogrand’s career, Szarkowski wants to extol the glories of its development, but is faced with doubt brought on by the awareness of an unfortunate decline at that career’s end. Szarkowski is at a loss in his attempt to understand this decline. For this reader, there was an awful sense of discomfort in witnessing a believer’s effort to put the worst in as positive a referential frame as he could find or invent. The reader sympathizes, feels empathy, but in the end, knows that it is as much a strain for him as it must have been for the writer.
I begin with this prelude because I feel a conflict, an uneasiness. I face a dilemma myself as I approach the photography of Garry Winogrand.
There is no denying the force, the influence, the dominance of Winogrand’s presence during a critical time in the histories of both photography and America. There is no denying that he contributed mightily to important changes in how we view significant aspects of the relationships between the photographic medium and life in American society. Without question his work has had, and continues to have, a major influence on younger male photographers. One might even say that Winogrand invented a new form of “street photography,” a form that has transformed our view of our public selves, or, at least, has made us more conscious of our view of our public selves. A curious and perhaps relevant observation is the fact that “street photography” has been almost exclusively the domain of male photographers (with such very important exceptions as Helen Levitt and Lisette Model). In turning the documentary idea emphatically inward upon himself, while still turning the documentary camera outward upon the world, Winogrand forced the surfacing of new knowledge about both his reality and ours.
Yet, when we add up the results of Winogrand’s career, there seems to be less cumulative power in his body of photographs than we had originally thought. There appears to be so much enormous energy wasted, used up in repetition, so much frenzy, so many dead ends, so little depth of thought, so little carry-through on implied social consequences. Perhaps this is best seen by noting how little potency or development there is in the work of most of his many followers. Here we are, at the beginning of the nineties, facing once again so many of the issues faced at the beginning of the sixties (Winogrand’s presence, his most forceful work, and its consequent showcasing at The Museum of Modern Art, dates from the middle and latter part of that decade and the early part of the next).
In retrospect, perhaps Winogrand’s career was more an idea than a reality, more a theory than a practice. Promoting the idea, the theory (perhaps visionary at the time), may have been a process pursued with more than a little wishful thinking. The idea apparently could not be sustained by Winogrand in real practice, perhaps not so surprising for a theory locked into a practice so dependent upon intuition, and upon a vision so restricted by Winogrand’s limited view of the world. He seemed to have neither desire nor will to analyze or to understand the results of his work. (Is that why he so insistently circumvented discussions of his work?) He consistently and simply refused to do the kind of analysis of his own work that may have been necessary for its continued development (as Lee Friedlander has shown in his career), or necessary for its cessation (as Robert Frank showed in his). That may be the cause of his frustration, and of the ultimate tragedy of Winogrand’s last decade.
I didn’t know Winogrand personally. We said hello here and there across the country, but we never spoke beyond that. I know only his work and what he and others have said about it and done with it. I’ve always been curious about why (in my view) no significant book of or about his work was ever published during his lifetime, and why most of what was published or exhibited was edited, arranged, or simply selected, by others. I’ve wondered whether having known him would allow me to see more than I do in his pictures. And I think that I still regret not having had the chance to find out, for I find myself bewildered by and full of ambivalence about this man’s work. 1 feel a sense of his powerful influence one moment, and the next I feel that I am at the receiving end of a great hoax.
I viewed more than 16,000 Winogrand prints at the Center for Creative Photography about two years ago,2 and at least hundreds elsewhere over the last quarter century. I have read a good deal, perhaps most, of what has been written about him and his work, including those now infamous slogans he himself so often retailed.3 As I have tried to assess it all I have found myself becoming increasingly confused and ambivalent. I knew at the start that trying to write about Winogrand’s work would be a difficult challenge. How difficult, I had no idea. How can I feel so conflicted about the photographer who so many have agreed was, as John Szarkowski put it, the quintessential photographer of his generation?
Certainly I have disagreed with Szarkowski on photography before, but rarely on the quality of the work of an artist he has praised. For many of us, Szarkowski’s view of the fundamental characteristics of photography as elaborated in The Photographer’s Eye (1966),4 and in his article, “A Different Kind of Art” (1975),5 has been too narrowly defined. Yet, about the work his view encompasses, he has been an eloquent and perceptive spokesperson. He has demonstrated a justly celebrated eye for quality; he has a gift for communicating poetically to others that which he understands visually, with words that can be understood by any moderately literate person. Whether he accepts it or not, he has wielded great persuasive power on photography’s practitioners, as well as on photography’s audiences. Personally, I have always found myself questioning my own opinions when they have differed from his. And I have done just that regarding Winogrand.
But in the end, it remains my opinion that Winogrand was not the quintessential (social) photographer of his generation; he was not the Walker Evans or the Robert Frank of the 1960s. I do not think that I will ever see sixties America through the eyes (photographs) of Winogrand the way 1 am able to see the thirties through Evans and the fifties through Frank. This may simply be a result of my age—how old I was in the thirties, fifties, and sixties. My image of the sixties, in form and content, is quite different, certainly more complex and more inclusive. I cannot think of the decade without envisioning a conflicting montage of ideas and events, and a somehow related montage of media, with photography at the core of its imagery. I cannot rid my memory of Pop Art, nor of the explosion of photography into a fertile, multifaceted medium far beyond what anyone had ever before imagined for it. My image includes Winogrand (and Diane Arbus and Friedlander), but it also includes Eddie Adams, Larry Burrows, Marie Cosindas, Bruce Davidson, Roy DeCarava, Ben Fernandez, Philip Jones Griffiths, Dave Heath, Robert Heinecken, Danny Lyon, Don McCullin, Flip Schulke, Jerry Uelsmann, Andy Warhol, Alice Wells, and a host of others.
The sixties, unlike the thirties and fifties, seemed to refuse to coalesce around a single theme — even that of chaos, which was rampant, and which certainly was an issue that Winogrand engaged with more consequence than other photographers. That chaos, in life and within Winogrand, had explosive points at which form and content came together and peaked in scenes that, in retrospect, appear to have been events both accidental and scripted.
Winogrand’s photography was often steeped in chaotic content, and when that content came together with form — when it worked as a picture — his work glowed with the uniqueness that Szarkowski has rightfully extolled. But there are significant problems. The work failed formally much more often than it succeeded. The content was extraordinarily limited, limited in such a way that it remained too clearly autobiographical, and too richly so to work often enough metaphorically or universally. It is that quality that continues to undermine Arbus as well. It is the opposite that continues to support Evans’ thirties photographs and Frank’s fifties pictures, and to some extent, supports Friedlander’s images made between the sixties and the nineties.
I must say that I wonder whether my feelings would be different if Winogrand’s work had been presented differently. Where is Winogrand in the work presented? Almost all that has reached the public has done so through the hands of others. The books have consistently been disappointing. Indeed, they are mediocre. Neither individually nor collectively do they beg re-engagement the way the original Evans and Frank books do. Had Winogrand taken responsibility for the presentation of his work, would it have been otherwise?
Winogrand’s habit of allowing others to decide how his work was to be presented dates from the fifties when he was beginning his career as a freelance and commercial photographer working through a photographer’s representative or an advertising agency. But there is more significance in the early work than this.
What can we learn from Winogrand’s earliest work? In the October 1954 Photography, Arthur Goldsmith wrote about the young Winogrand. His pictures, Goldsmith said, were paradoxical, “brutal and tender, poetic and violent.” Full of vitality and an “explosive quality of energy and emotion caught at peak.” Goldsmith saw Winogrand himself as a paradox, “not especially emotional or sensitive… big, pale, and heavy-set…..And people respond to him. They accept him and permit him to shoot where normally a photographer would be resented.” Winogrand was “particularly attracted to conflict… symbolic of the larger struggle of all life for existence.” Goldsmith quoted Winogrand himself, who was at that time apparently more willing to speak about his work: “Bodies speak in attitudes, in the way they move, walk, and lie. They are almost as expressive as when a person opens his mouth and talks” (see figure 2). Winogrand was in pursuit of bodies in action. He photographed boxing, football, dance, burlesque. But he was also after more theatrical forms of entertainment, and he was clearly interested in women, children, and cars. Goldsmith noted Winogrand’s interest in form and composition, in “daring, unorthodox” uses of space, and in “underlying emotional tensions (more) than (in) specific activity,” but he also made note of his already-formed tendency to overshoot, and of his lack of technical ability.6
When I raised a question with John Szarkowski about the effect of overproduction on the consistency of quality in Winogrand’s output, he suggested I look up what Harry Callahan had said about the correspondence between creating bad pictures and working every day (referring to the commitment of an artist to his enterprise). In 1962 Callahan wrote, “I photograph continuously, often without a good idea or strong feelings. During this time the photos are nearly all poor but I believe they develop my seeing and help later on in other photos.”7
Szarkowski’s comment about Callahan’s statement helps us understand his respect for Winogrand, for he wrote that the Callahan paragraph quoted above is the truest and most touching description known to this writer of the condition and faith of the serious photographer. Most of the time, most of the pictures are bad. Not bad because they are technically casual, or awkwardly composed, or unclear in their intent, but because they are deficient in grace. They are nevertheless part of the raw material out of which later pictures are made, some of which will succeed, and will touch the spirit of people.8
Callahan is, like Winogrand, a man of few words, especially in relation to his photography. But tracing this rare bit of verbal expression reminded me of Callahan’s street pictures. Many commentators on Winogrand, including Winogrand himself, have spoken at some length about the importance of the work of Walker Evans and Robert Frank to him, but it seems to me there are also important points of reference to Callahan’s street photographs. Though Callahan seems more detached, his pictures more classically structured and more calmly balanced, some of his concerns are not unrelated to those of Winogrand. Both made street pictures in which a woman plays the central role, and others in which gesture, posture, expression, and interrelationships of people are brought into suggestive contiguity by the artist’s careful framing and timing. Callahan also reveals a weakness for the glamorous and the fashionable. But Callahan’s street work is crisper, colder, darker, more ominous. Indeed, it seems to share an emotional alienation more with Robert Frank’s work than with Winogrand’s. (Significantly, Callahan and Frank shared a two-person exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art from 29 January to 1 April 1962, an exhibition that Winogrand surely saw.)
But, there is another, even more important difference between Winogrand and Callahan: Callahan’s street pictures are a series limited in time, space, and concept. Callahan moves from one series idea to another more quickly, exposes film more carefully, and in selecting finished work from sketch, Callahan is a ruthless editor. Both are known for high exposure-to-print ratios, but Winogrand’s ratio was extraordinary and, since the uncovering of the unedited and unprocessed late work, it is legendary.
In 1954, Edward Steichen selected two of Winogrand’s pictures for the 1955 blockbuster exhibition, The Family of Man. One was a blurred ambience picture with two men in black tie at the Metropolitan Opera Bar. The general high-key and dynamic feelings of this photograph refer directly to the ballet photographs of Winogrand’s teacher, Alexey Brodovitch. The second picture was a sharp-focussed, fast-shutter, action-freezing picture of a man literally hauling a woman off into the ocean where others were already swimming. The content of both photographs would remain a part of Winogrand’s repertoire; his future technique would follow only that of the latter.
The Family of Man exhibition included a number of photographs by Robert Doisneau that anticipated the later Winogrand’s peculiar counterpoint of people splayed out across the surface and into space, people who are caught at that moment when their gestures, postures, and expressions seem choreographed to coincide in a mini-tableau upon a stage. But Doisneau’s compositions are more stable.9 It is likely that Brassai, Carrier-Bresson, Doisneau, Kertesz, Weegee, and perhaps Callahan, affected the early Winogrand as much or more than did Walker Evans and Robert Frank. It is clear, though, and well-documented, that Winogrand borrowed what were to become the major characteristics of his style, the tilt, the wide angle, and deep space, from Frank. With the very curious exception of Walker Evans, all of the above-named photographers, and many of Winogrand’s friends, were represented in The Family of Man.
Peter Stackpole was included in that exhibition with a picture of a New York City intersection crowded with moving people, mostly women, one of whom was running toward the camera in a way not unlike what one would come to associate with Winogrand’s work. The Stackpole is reproduced just above one of Winogrand’s pictures in the exhibition catalog. Winogrand was encouraged by, and indeed may have been influenced by, the work of such friends and contemporaries of his as Stackpole, Bob Schwalberg, and Ed Feingersh.
Winogrand made his first independent cross-country photographic trip in 1955, the same year in which Robert Frank began his famous U.S. odyssey. Apparently Winogrand was not aware of Frank at the time. Almost none of the pictures Winogrand made on his four-month trip have ever been seen. He said that he had “technical failures,” a comment that is supported by the astonishing fact that only 35 rolls of film from that trip were found in his files.10 While technical issues would never become a preoccupation for him, Winogrand learned what he needed to know to get the kind of picture he was after.11 And 35 rolls in four months was a small fraction of the number he would normally expose over such a period of time.
Winogrand has said that he became a serious photographer in 1960; in that year his first marriage began its final, three-year decline. The marriage had been rocky from its beginning in 1952. His wife’s budding dance career was constantly thwarted by Winogrand’s self-absorption. Serious problems erupted more frequently following the births of their children in 1956 and 1958. Winogrand could not take his wife’s career needs seriously, nor, apparently, was he able to talk with her about their personal and intimate problems. Bob Schwalberg, one of Winogrand’s many photographer-friends, told John Szarkowski that he remembered the “years around 1960” as years of “personal failure for Winogrand.”12 According to Tod Papageorge, Winogrand said that the concepts and techniques used in making his photographs, including those “following the suggestion of Robert Frank’s work” (e.g., the tilt, the use of the wide-angle lens as “normal,” and the relationships of scale or placement of the primary subject to the rest of the content and to deep/wide space), were fully developed during the same period.13
It is clear, from much testimony and from the work itself, that this was also the time when Winogrand began his most compulsive photographing of women on the street.14 We have evidence, however, in Winogrand’s own words dating from a much earlier time, indicating his special attraction to women.
“When I was a teenager, I was once an extra in the ballet…. I must have been 15 or 16…. They got us, the whole gang, off a street corner in the Bronx! The Gaiete Parisienne was one ballet in a program of ballets,… there was a cafe, and, attached to it, a bandstand. That was us…..I was in the first row of our little band. We had to be onstage for only one ballet;… Otherwise we were free. It was incredible! All that flesh. I died. I had never seen anything like that before. I couldn’t believe it…. And then, when we got onstage, on the bandstand—with the music, the makeup, the smells—the only sensual thing that didn’t happen was touch. I have to say that I felt like my face was being smothered in thighs. I think I’ve never gotten over that. That afternoon—I’ll never forget it.”15
Photographic evidence of this obsession dates from the street, dance, ballet, and burlesque pictures he made in the early 1950s.16 But, perhaps the best early evidence of his projection onto women of awe coupled with fear, distrust, desire, and sarcasm, is to be found in the series he made at El Morocco in 1955 (see figure 2). In that group Winogrand already displayed a command of the idea of a decisive moment in which he, the photographer, had control over chance encounters, expressions, gestures, glances, and body postures. And he exercised that control in positioning himself, his “players,” and his camera, and in selecting the moment of exposure in order to produce the range of “female images” he projected onto scenes he found. He was already interested in how something personally meaningful would look photographed. And that included the full-front, full-figure, head-on, close-up, street portrait of a woman, typical of his later signature photographs in every way except for his use of the tilt and deep/wide space.17 We will return later in this essay to the issue of the critical conflict over women manifest in Winogrand’s life and work. Suffice it to say that he could not maintain an intimate relationship with a woman who refused to suppress her selfhood for his.
Not unexpectedly, other aspects of Winogrand’s mature work appear in his 1950’s pictures such as his interest in child-adult exchanges, and other visual expressions of familial relationships.18 Most of these early photographs convey loving, positive connections; some even approach sentimentality. A few, however, speak to Winogrand’s more pessimistic attitude, stemming perhaps from his own childhood experiences, but also apparently anticipating the tragic conditions of his future marriages.19
Later pictures on these themes, as is typical of Winogrand’s evolution as a picture-maker, become more complicated, sometimes more ambiguous. Seeing a child alone had a special poignancy for Winogrand, and his many photographs of such children may make direct reference to his admitted desire, during his youth, to escape the family abode and find privacy— in the streets! Always there lurked ominous fears and mysteries. In the early work this is evident in the dark, brooding nature of the prints; in the later work he made use of his sophisticated techniques for playing perspective, frame, horizon line, and peripheral details as a kind of Greek chorus commenting on the primary figure, which was often neither in the center, nor the foreground of the picture space (see figure 3).
The animal—as expressor of contemporary human concerns, lifestyles, mores, manners, gestures, or expressions, and as family progeny—also made its appearance early in Winogrand’s work. In one case, at least, it was joined with such other familiar Winograndian favorites as the car (big, fancy, new, shiny, sporty), the city, the street, the intersection, and the couple concerned less with each other than with something else within or without the photographic frame (see figure 1).
Winogrand loved cars. The car seems to have become a lifelong symbol of special relevance associated perhaps with power and manhood (and thus with the development of the mating instinct), and with freedom and independence for the adolescent and young adult. The teenager in Winogrand was apparently hard for him to discard (see figure 4).
A strange magnetic attraction drew Winogrand to repeatedly photograph people who had bandaged faces, patched eyes, casted or missing limbs; people who were blind, dwarfed, wheelchaired, caned, crutched, or otherwise physically uncommon (figures 4, 5, 18, 19, 20). In these we can see the full spectrum of Winogrand’s photographic transformations of street life into pictorial constructions—of space (peripheral and deep); of counterbalanced and counterpointed dynamic movements; of complex and seemingly limitless moments of implied, manufactured, fantasized, or willed, intimate contacts (eye, body, mind, and perhaps heart) between strangers.
These photographs, of which there are a vast number, are as close as Winogrand ever came to the imagery of Diane Arbus. Clearly he never stepped over some self-assigned boundary that kept him from the extremes of her content and her life. Perhaps, however, they were his way of communicating his often-stated feelings about the human failure, impotence, and madness that pervaded his time, feelings that he felt personally and keenly in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.20 Or, perhaps creating these images was the only way he could make visible his own battle with real or imagined personal (if less visible) flaws, which again, according to his own testimony, were constantly injected into his mind from childhood on, first by his mother’s continuous carping and nagging, by her criticism of his interests, behavior, and goals (or lack thereof from her point of view), and later by his deep depressions over his failed marriages and relationships.
Photography’s power to bring strangers into “intimate” contact on the street fascinated Winogrand, whose quick perception and facile handling of the camera were from the start a potent partnership. In his continuing exploration of this idea, he found more and more intricate patterns involving space, dynamic and peculiar configurations, postures, gestures, and expressions to the point where the viewer must marvel at the chess-like mind that could hold such a multitude of activity within a 35mm frame. Of course he practiced a great deal. He studied details separately and learned how to put the details together with lightning speed: look at figures 6 through 10 as if they were a sequence representing his development of this approach.
Winogrand accepted the way people and events important to him looked in his photographs. He framed his desires, feelings, critiques on pieces of photographic paper rather than engaging them in actual physical and emotional contact. This seems self-admitted by his claim that “whenever [he saw] an attractive woman… [he did his] best to photograph her.”21
Winogrand physically worked within the kind of environment that came to be known in the mid-sixties as the “social landscape,” a term coined by Lee Friedlander (in a statement accompanying a portfolio of his work in the Fall 1963 issue of Contemporary Photographer), and used in the titles of two important exhibitions of 1966, one organized by Nathan Lyons, the other by Thomas Garver.22 The photographs in these exhibitions generally conveyed the grim existential malaise that had begun to become the visual reality of the people and the environment of the new consciousness of the sixties. Most of the work was clearly descendent from Robert Frank’s The Americans, which had been published on the eve of the sixties. The Winogrand selection in the Lyons exhibition was no exception.
But when we look beyond what was exhibited to what Winogrand produced during these years, it becomes clear that with a few very significant exceptions, his most powerful, most honest, most revealing photographs are of “sexually provocative” and/or stereotypically attractive women who, more often than not, dominate his incredibly constructed street tableaux (see figure 18).23 He has, in these pictures, found a meaningful contact between his needs and one aspect of the sixties’ shake-up: the so-called “sexual revolution.” Unfortunately there was a peculiar twist to the surfacing of this revolution within the period’s male-dominated social movements, for women often found themselves in subordinate, compromised, and even exploited positions. This is not meant to be a pejorative comment about Winogrand. His picturing the meeting of autobiography and an event specific in time and place is not inappropriate for an art that is powerfully of the present, of the artist, of the medium (as understood at the time and within that era’s context). And what he pictured reflects a historical creation, a creation thoroughly grounded in convention and tradition, grounded in, one wants to say, a mythology, which has always held within it a palpable tension caused by the confusion between the creation and its assumed reality. And that tension’s historical base, as well as its changing looks and forms, are significantly evident when we view Winogrand’s pictures of women within their originating context, but from a perspective informed by the revelations of the 1980s.
Winogrand’s pictures are direct evidence of a patriarchal society, a society that forced women to aspire to a model formed long ago and continuously reinforced since, even while modified at regular intervals by the needs of a consumer society. The concept of such a model supports an ambiguous image that has confused submission with power, power with submission. And thus the conflict: who has power over whom? The one who holds the magnet, or the one who is attracted by it?
It is a high-keyed and craftily framed (and contained) tension that threads through Winogrand’s photographs of these women—here concentrated on the photographic look of the eyes, here on that of the lips, there on that of the posturing, gesturing, hands, arms, legs, torsos, and finally on the intricate electrical charges that jump from element to element within his frames, charges that will never be allowed to exit those frames, which function like the rack that contains the balls on a billiard table (see figure 11).
What it was that Winogrand wanted to see photographed (in the way that he photographed it) was a deconstruction of certain aspects of his world view, which he wanted to reconstruct into a picture reflecting his peculiar gaze. What he allowed into his gaze’s consideration was what appears in his photographs. He constructed his fantasies by making types out of individuals and literally framing these “performers” by, as photographer Frederick Sommer would say, placing them so that they occupied the correct positions on his stage. Framed, the performers are now intertwined in unreal relationships, or in relationships reflecting Winogrand’s fantasies, which are largely physical, visceral, visual—not intellectual. The world is captured, but restructured in the capturing and frame-up. What is not captured is difficult, often impossible to know, but is significant and worth speculation. For example, in considering the picture-making of his generation, one might speculate on what is not in Winogrand’s pictures but is in the work of Larry Burrows, Roy DeCarava, Ben Fernandez, Dave Heath, Robert Heinecken, Kenneth Josephson, Lee Lockwood, Robert Rauschenberg, Moneta Sleet, Jr., Andy Warhol, Alice Wells, et. al, and of course, in that of Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander.
Winogrand seems, in his work at least, to hardly have been concerned over the contemporary and future significance of the racial, generational, military, and even many of the media issues and events happening around him. He was, of course, aware of how the momentary, staged, media and public performances related to these issues and what these events looked like, especially how they would look in his photographs. His own biography, his conscious self-removal from involvement, from commitment, his focus on himself, his problems—all this explains, in part, the superficial aspects and the detached look of his subjects and his photographs of those subjects.
In 1962, as his marriage dissolved, he was struck with a personally debilitating fear spawned by the Cuban Missile Crisis. He spoke of it as a crucial episode in his life…..He walked the streets in despair out of fear for the life of his family and himself and his city, and from his own impotence to affect the outcome……. It is at this point that Winogrand’s political activities ceased. His earlier involvement with the Young Democratic Club… was dropped. For the rest of his life he apparently belonged to no organizations, and he declined to vote.24
Winogrand’s detachment was, however, not without consciousness. Indeed, one of his seldom-reproduced photographs, “Dallas, 1964” (figure 12), struck me forcibly when I first saw it.25I have never forgotten it, never been able to shake it. It seemed at first glance to be completely atypical of its author. It is a photograph about photographs, about a certain kind of photograph, about what we might call the basic kind of photograph. It is also a representation of a certain kind of reality, a reality that operates within a significant set of contexts of times and places, a reality based largely upon photographic representation with its own significant set of contexts—a reality largely based on what it looked like photographed (or filmed, or videotaped). And here we return to Winogrand’s credo: he said he wanted to learn something by doing it, wanted to learn about photography as description, re-presentation, and form, by photographing. He wanted to learn about life by witnessing its transformation in photographs. What did he mean by the mantra “to see what it looks like photographed”? Perhaps he meant, “to see what it means photographed.”
Look at “Dallas, 1964” (ah, the command to look—the first step toward making, the first step toward taking, the first step toward seeing, the first step toward voyeurism). What is it that we are seeing? That is, what is it that looks like what Winogrand photographed?
We must pause to look and to think a little. Can we see anything in the photograph without having seen related material before? Do we need to know anything not given on the photographic sheet, or in its reproduction (leaving aside for the moment the distinction between a photograph and its reproduction)?
All of us look at photographs at first blush with the same question, “What is it?” Most of us came into the world with an inherited belief: that photographs based upon a 500-year-old tradition of a single-point perspectival representation of reality are essentially duplicates, or, in current parlance, traces, of some material reality in the world.
So, what is it? A section of a wide street (in Dallas, the caption tells us). On our side of the street (for we are the photographer standing with the camera), and at our fingertips, is a group of people—four or five (perhaps we are not the photographer, but the fifth at the bottom edge, holding one of the postcards). One person looks at us. Two people hold cameras. One of them is smoking a cigar and holding another postcard, the other points to something behind and to the left of us. The two postcards reproduce essentially the same photograph and some partially readable text, though one has an additional tiny, unreadable photo reproduction in an overlay circle. A car (moves) down the street (away from us); on the sidewalk opposite us a pedestrian walks in the opposite direction of the car; on his side are traffic signs, street lamps, lawn, some trees, and a nondescript building.
We can read part of the postcard’s text: “PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S ASSASSINATION AND MEMORIAL SITE DALLAS TEXAS…” It is quite likely that we would all “read” this information in pretty much the same way.
But where do we go next with this description of “what it is”? Some would say, “Typical American tourists photographing themselves and making and buying souvenir images of where they’ve been—in this case, the place where President Kennedy was assassinated. They photograph in order to show evidence to the folks back home, and to put that evidence in their family albums.” Some of us might stop there.
But, others will have broader contexts to bring to “what it is.” I can’t avoid seeing the structure of the surface—the choreographed dance of postures, gestures, facial expressions, objects, the active diagonal of the street and car contained by the strong vertical hold of the cigar smoker, the push-pull tension between surface and deep spatial rush—all characteristic of so many other Winogrand pictures. These structural elements, along with the “openness” of the print (the detail across the full range of tones, its overall focus, no obvious evidence of manipulative modulation of tones), are all, of course, aspects of a now-discredited and so-called formalism, or modernism, in photography. What’s significant about this reading is its tie-in with what John Szarkowski has called the New Document.
Winogrand’s technical competence was, as noted above, limited to what he needed. He knew which lens and which vantage point to use to picture what he wanted to see photographed. By 1964 he had a pretty good idea of how to get what he was interested in on film, and therefore he knew how what he was interested in would look in his photographs. And that is what his “new documents” were about: a limited set of personally relevant social circumstances lifted from their contexts and placed into his own, essentially photographic, context. He saw the world photographically. Most people do. But he did so consciously. Thus I pause here to state the obvious: form and content are inseparable from each other and from the constructed “reality” of the photograph, a piece of paper that is an object of transformation, which per force becomes a new object in the world. Content triggered Winogrand’s motivation to form a picture that would compel the viewer to see that content in a particular way: the way it looked when photographed by Winogrand. How that will mean is dependent upon the viewer’s context.
As a viewer, my context for “Dallas, 1964” includes information from my past, along with information about photography’s history, information about Winogrand (though, not knowing him personally, it is indirect), and information about the event referred to in the picture (also known only indirectly).
Winogrand was traveling through the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964. Texas was on his itinerary; another Dallas picture from that trip is reproduced on page 94 in Figments, in the section called “THE STREET,” and titled “American Legion Convention, Dallas, Texas, 1964” (figure 20) (this photograph is discussed later in this essay). “Dallas, 1964” is reproduced on page 137 of Figments, in the section, “ON THE ROAD.” Chances are, then, that the “tourists” in “Dallas, 1964,” are American Legionnaires. Yet, even if we wish to speculate that as legionnaires they might have a greater interest in the Kennedy assassination site, they are still tourists.
I’m most intrigued by thinking about tourist photography in relation to Winogrand’s goal “to see what it looks like photographed.” That goal was not very likely the motivation of the tourists’ use of their cameras or of their postcard purchases. What they got, however, was what the site looked like photographed by them, as well as what it looked like photographed by the postcard photographer, which is a different impression altogether.
The 1964 Guggenheim Fellowship was awarded to Winogrand to provide him with time to make “photographic studies of American life.” This fact inevitably recalls Robert Frank’s Guggenheim odyssey of a decade earlier. Something to think about—one wants to make comparisons. One wishes there were a Winogrand book comparable to Frank’s The Americans. But there is no such book.
I think about American photographs, representation, and reality in combination with Winogrand’s infamous statement. And I begin to consider that “Dallas, 1964” may be another key Winogrand picture. It is now about how things look photographed, and that “how” now has a larger meaning: the statement implies not only that things look different photographed, but that much of our experience is photographic, and thus different from actual or direct experience of what was photographed. “Of course!” my sophisticated photographer-readers will say. But, that was perhaps part of Winogrand’s message to the world about the world.
That possibility is supported by the fact that he made other photographs in which the content is about experiencing events photographically, for example, “Apollo 11 Moon Shot, Cape Kennedy, Florida, 1969″26 (figure 24), made on another trip in another key year for Winogrand’s photography. Moon shot. Shot by cameras, seen via photographs or photographically generated images, and known to us in the general audience only as it looked photographed. And in this picture, we are present again with our cameras, makers of our own eye-witness experience. These Winogrand pictures are about experiencing a life made photographically, whether made by someone else or by ourselves.
Now I begin flipping backward. Where was I when JFK was shot? How did I feel? What did it mean to me? I was in my late twenties. It was my first year as a full-time university teacher entrenched in the issues of the early sixties and acutely aware of the presence of those issues in the lives of my students. How did I know—how do I know the reality of JFK’s assassination? By how it looked photographed. Along with millions of others I watched, and rewatched, and rewatched the brief film clip of the motorcade in which the assassination apparently took place. Along with those other millions I have almost come to believe that I witnessed the event. Whenever the event is mentioned, I see the film clip. (Just as whenever someone mentions Gertrude Stein I see Picasso’s portrait of her—a portrait, which, when made, people said didn’t look like her,… to which Picasso is supposed to have said, “Don’t worry, it will.” And for me it does.) The postcards in Winogrand’s photograph too, are not just reminders. The memory reads them as another aspect of the fact, now combined with what the fact looked like in the video version of the film seen on the day of the event, or later (unless the viewer was at the event, in which case the issue of reality is complicated by what was seen, heard, smelled, or touched). Winogrand knew that a photograph was a new object in the world, a new event, a very complicated piece of paper.
Whether by the accepted conventional association with reality established by the chemical-optical processes announced in 1839, or by the accepted western conventional association with reality established by the perspectival pictorial systems of the fifteenth century, and whether true or false, Winogrand knew that the world understood the photograph as a visual and faithfully descriptive re-presentation or “trace” of the surface details of that reality. The photograph displayed relationships of things in the world seen by a lens from a single stationary spatial point also in the world for a certain amount of time (usually only a fraction of a second).
Winogrand also knew that the re-presentation process included the field of view of the particular optical system (camera and lens) chosen and used by the photographer, the selective physical position chosen by the photographer and thus his or her mental-emotional position as well. The photographer also chose the finishing processes leading up to and including the final presentation of that photographically derived image. The process also forced the photographer to engage in a variety of contributory contexts such as his emotional and intellectual development, his personal beliefs and expectations, his current ideological view (whether it could be articulated or not), his inherited critical stance regarding photography’s traditions, and his bias regarding photography’s present status as art, as a tool of representation. At any particular social, cultural, and historical moment, the various audiences’ positions on the matters listed above are also crucial to a photograph’s “look” (or meaning). These factors of context serve to define the historical and contemporary habits or conventions through which pictures are both made and viewed (or understood). Pictures, and thus their meanings, change with time—the time of the individual (photographer or viewer), and the span of a culture or civilization. Pictures live an active life and thus are always changing according to the historical and environmental contexts through which they are interpreted or accepted.
Thus Winogrand knew that even with his experience, he could never be completely certain as to how something in the world looked photographed. But, however things in the world would look, he chose to limit the number of the world’s aspects he would test. And, before long, he had a pretty good idea of how those aspects might look in his photographs in his time. He knew that he could at least control or determine what reality he would give his viewers.
In occasional photographs such as “Dallas, 1964,” Winogrand gave his viewers clues to the photographic enterprise and its consequences regarding experiencing life and things in the modern world. It is true that much of that experience is actually the result of a frame-up created by a person with a camera. So it was in my experience of the JFK assassination; and so it is for the people presented in this photograph who stand somewhere in (and compare?) the space from which the framed fragment they hold was created; and, one assumes, they will frame-up their own more-or-less significant aspect of that space. Winogrand cleverly avoided any visual representation of the postcard view in his picture. He implied that that view was over our left shoulder. As I look at it I become aware that there is a wall of books over my left shoulder! And, now I know I have just looked at this small independent object—this photograph—and have myself fallen through its window frame and spoken of its life as if I were living it.
There are a number of other photographs by Winogrand that are not within the mainstream of his style but stand out for their unique qualities. “New Mexico, 1957″27 (figure 13) and “Near Carmel, 1964” (figure 14), are two of them. “New Mexico, 1957” has been widely shown and reproduced; “Near Carmel, 1964” is not as well known. Nonetheless, they have some things in common: they were not photographed in a crowded eastern city, but in apparently suburban areas of the southwest and west. The structure of each is rigidly formal and parallel in every direction. The contrast is higher than usual for Winogrand prints. Both include portions of a single family home within a landscape environment. Both center attention on a blackened open garage space that effectively isolates a sunlit figure in front of it. In the New Mexico photograph, a child is poised in the light, with a second child just barely visible in the black space behind him, and a tipped-over three-wheeled scooter in the foreground of the driveway in front of him. In the Carmel picture, a woman pauses about three feet from a fancy convertible partially backed out of the darkened garage. The woman stands as if in a trance, or as if she had been turned into stone by some unseen force. The child in the New Mexico picture seems simultaneously animated and petrified.
Both pictures exude a surreal or supernatural aura, a kind of death spell, as if some incredible non-physically destructive bomb had stopped the world. They are chilling pictures, yet there is no real “evidence” of violence, not even of mishap. They are among the stillest still photographs I know. They have an aura of evil that evokes anxiety, the feeling of being in the presence of an unknown force that is about to descend—what Walter Benjamin, commenting on Atget’s photographs in 1931, and again in 1936 (in his two most famous essays on photography), referred to as the feeling “of the scene of a crime.” In fact in these Winogrands it is more like the feeling of being at the scene of a crime about to be committed. They were made by a photographer who is known for his ability to animate the inanimate. Their presence within the larger body of his work is uncanny, unexplainable. Yet, a few early photographs in the Center for Creative Photography’s collection28 suggest a more involved exploration of this surrealistic sensibility. Typically, the experience is completely visual and visceral. One feels his or her response physically. One wonders what Winogrand might have produced if circumstances had permitted him to pursue this vein more vigorously. One wonders whether he had been too forcefully pigeonholed too early and too continuously by his champions, to the extent that his risk-taking could no longer proceed energetically beyond the limits he had come to accept as his own. Unfortunately we will never know.
“Utah, 1964″(figure 15), and “San Marcos, Texas, 1964″(figure 16), are also unusual but successful Winogrands. They too have a surrealistic edge, though without the bleak sense of loss. The Utah picture has an aura of danger, largely a result of the overwhelming darkness, the grittiness, and the lack of detail in the print. The imagery pits nature (the animal) against its nemesis (the machine). It is not at all typical of Winogrand’s many other animal/human contrasts and comparisons. It may be accounted for simply by the fact that Winogrand’s camera was never out of arm’s reach: it was a lucky grab. The San Marcos picture may be explained the same way. But driving down a highway and being jolted out of the driver’s trance by an animal suddenly bolting across the vehicle’s path is an experience available to everyone; finding a pig together with a flipper-footed, headless woman underwater is something else again. That’s real luck, strange coincidence, however aided and abetted by the photographer. Obviously, too obviously perhaps, we could make comparisons with others of Winogrand’s animal pictures, others of his women pictures. How does this couple look photographed? How do a pig and a woman mean photographed swimming together without a clue about the context from which they have been removed? No matter, these pictures are still one-of-a-kind, and thus, they raise the question as to what else Winogrand might have done. These, like the New Mexico picture, have had wide public exposure and acceptance, a fact that calls into question, perhaps even refutes, the pigeonholing mentioned above. Nonetheless, I have come to the conclusion that the only acceptable explanation for the San Marcos picture is that once again handy camera and lucky situation found each other, and Winogrand could not resist the found, chance encounter. Certainly this “methodology” fits his pigeonhole, even if the look of the picture does not.
An interesting, if weaker, explanation is the fact that 1964, like 1969, was a good year for Winogrand, and that includes Winogrand’s animals—at least for those he found in Texas. It seems to me that the pictures he made there in 1964, pairing animals and humans, are far superior to those he made in Fort Worth from 1974 to 1977, many of which are reproduced in Stock Photographs (1980);29 and to some extent, superior to those made at the zoo from 1961 to 1963 (see figure 17).
I have no clear explanation for why I believe Winogrand seems to have made most of his best pictures in 1964 and 1969. But perhaps some clues may be contained within certain coincidental facts: he received Guggenheim Fellowships both years; 1964, the year of his first Guggenheim Fellowship and five months of travel, followed the final separation from his first wife in 1963; 1969, the year of his second Guggenheim Fellowship and travel to Europe and to California and Florida, was the year of separation from his second wife, and the year that he met the woman who would become his third wife.
I think one of Winogrand’s most amazing and most successful photographs—perhaps the ultimate pictorial configuration of his concerns, abilities, and vision—was made in 1969. It is the monumental “Los Angeles, California, 1969” (figure 18). This photograph places Winogrand’s personal concerns within a larger, more general social arena. It engages some important contradictions peculiar to being human. It displays extraordinary sophistication in the use of the medium of photography. Even the quality of the print—the use of the tonal range—is extraordinary. It is a classic example of Winogrand’s unique style, of the major innovative formal and structural contributions he made to the history and development of representational picturemaking. And it speaks broadly to the image/reality conflict that exploded into an issue of public consciousness in the 1960s. One cannot avoid the not-so-subtle suggestion made by the tight inclusion of the street sign at the upper right edge of the frame, and by the stars on the sidewalk: this is Hollywood and Vine, a corner redolently symbolic of our confusion between image and reality.
This photograph powerfully displays Winogrand’s significant personal obsessions: the glamorous, fashionable, to him sexually and in other ways idealistically attractive woman; the symbolically impotent, handicapped person (drawing the woman’s attention while simultaneously motivating her to distance herself); the non-communicating older couple; and the isolated, visually curious child—to name the most obvious. The child on the bench is not only visually curious, but uncertain about the meaning of what he sees. Others—the majority (and older) of those present—ignore the significance of what is happening around them. The facades of wealth and consumer capitalism overpower everything, including the sad and artificial-looking token references to a disappearing natural environment.
The light in this photograph is simultaneously magical, symptomatic, and ominous. It emphasizes segregated territories; it casts long, abstract, and dynamic shadows from the women, trees, and architectural forms, shadows that point to and converge upon one of the stars and upon Winogrand (and therefore upon us), from whom the view is all-encompassing, wide-eyed, and deep. The light is also blinding, painful to look at. And here Winogrand’s use of the tilted camera contributes to and reflects a very real instability and uneasiness, which is, nonetheless, as contained by the structure of the picture as the infinite and simultaneous activity of a vast world included within and contained by the frame.
This is, for me, the quintessential Winogrand photograph. It is also quintessential in the broader sense of picture as art. Everything works: activity and structure are indivisible; surface representation and the artist’s presence work hand in hand to provide food for extended thought beyond the quick and the obvious take of most street photography; nothing is extraneous, nothing distracts from the inhering whole; figure and ground interpenetrate; references made to a territory outside the picture are coequal with references made within the territory of the picture itself. There is a point at which analysis and explanation must fail in an attempt to communicate what makes a picture great. Sometimes comparison helps. Took for example at “Untitled, New York, 1960s” (figure 19). It contains some of the same elements and ideas found in “Los Angeles, California, 1969,” but in comparison, as a complete picture, as art, it fails. Representation overpowers picture. Much is extraneous, much distracts. At some point viewing is exhausted, or frustrated.
Another outstanding Winogrand photograph, “American Legion Convention, Dallas, Texas, 1964” (figure 20), though also less complete, is relevant to the discussion of “Los Angeles, California, 1969.” Indeed the potency of the former is enhanced when it is seen together with the latter.30 Both photographs force their viewers to consider a familiar situation: the visual contrast between the fully mobile and the more-or-less incapacitated person. In the process, and perhaps more directly in the Dallas picture, the viewer is made uncomfortably aware of the power of the gaze. Winogrand has presented each and every person in the Dallas photograph as being conscious of that power of the gaze. Every gaze but one in the picture is overtly directed away from the gaze of the one excepted, a person whose whole being hugs an area of the ground that is very carefully encircled and isolated by an empty space created by the others and by Winogrand. That singular gaze, directed not at the others, but at Winogrand (and us), coupled with its complementary expression and the visible facts of its owner’s lost limbs, is riveting. It cuts directly to the core of every human feeling one has ever felt in the face of impotence. Impotence and its consequences are expressed everywhere in this photograph. One can sense the man’s loss and its consequent diminishing of his life, and the others’ mixture of shame, guilt, discomfort, and fear—at their own relative wholeness (shame), their inability to significantly alter his condition (guilt), their awareness of their own less visibly apparent shortcomings (discomfort), their awareness of the imminent possibility of being there one day (fear). It is conceivable that the man in the middle may have lost his limbs fighting alongside these others— indeed it is also conceivable that he too was a legionnaire. No one but the photographer has the strength to engage gaze with gaze. His strength forces us to engage our gaze with his, and thus with the complex meaning of the whole event—a visual and pictorial situation that one does not soon forget.
But how different the Los Angeles and the Dallas pictures are, finally. The Dallas picture experience is quickly focused, wrenching, but centered on a singular event. The Los Angeles picture, on the other hand, is complex. Also wrenching, it continues to work into itself more and more complications. It embroiders; it sends its serious viewer from one gaze to another, continuing to grow and to develop its subtleties. It is not only difficult to forget, it draws us back again and again.
Obviously form and content are inseparable in the making (and reading) of either picture. What then makes the difference? Both form and content (no matter how inseparable) are interlocked in a more intricate exchange, and they are more exquisitely joined, in the Los Angeles picture. But why? How? At this point the critic again feels his own certain kind of inability and can only say something like, “luck,” “chance,” “fortuitous and insightful intuition,” and other such unhelpful pronouncements. Somewhere in this mystery, perhaps, lies the raison d’etre for Winogrand’s method of making photographs. His faith in the potential of his ability to produce such pictures out of hundreds of misses was, for him, well-founded for at least a decade. But somewhere within that unexplainable mystery may also be the reason for the continued attraction to so-called “straight photography.” The operative agents of other methods or media for picture-making somehow seem more open to analysis and explanation. Having said this, I feel compelled to say that had either of these photographs been paintings, they might have been powerful images, but, I suspect, not as powerful as they are as photographs.
It was in 1969 that Winogrand received his second Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded for his proposal to study “the effect of the media on events.” He meant, of course, American media and events, yet he traveled mostly in Europe that year.31 And, the majority of work he did in 1969 concentrated on the glamorous and fashionable, the wealthy—especially at parties and closed events. Some of this work recalls the content of the El Morocco pictures of 1955 (see figure 2), though the new photographs were, of course, differently constructed. Nonetheless, when Public Relations, the book that resulted from the Guggenheim project, was published by The Museum of Modern Art in 1977, it contained reproductions of more photographs from 1969 than from any other year.
Of the published Winogrand books, the only one we might expect to reflect the 1960s as strongly as those of Evans and Frank did is Public Relations. But it doesn’t. Too much significant content is missing from both pictures and captions, and the formal aspects of neither individual pictures, nor of the sequence as a whole, conduct the limited content into a broad enough metaphor with which one could identify the complex period. Indeed, this book leaves the viewer frustrated—leaves her or him with little to work with for either a general idea about, or a specific connection with, the range of demonstrations and “public occasions” that characterized sixties’ media events. Vague captions were appropriate for the Evans and Frank books because the ideas of America in the thirties and the fifties were simpler, more focussed, both in those periods and even more so in later memory. Not so for the sixties.
The sixties’ “events” were, however, often unfocused, poorly planned, chaotic, usually misguided, sometimes tragic, sometimes ritualistically entertaining and without significant purpose other than to use the situation for individual public exhibition and display. And many, perhaps most, of Winogrand’s Public Relations pictures do reflect obvious aspects of the “effect of the media on events” in America toward the end of a decade during which “media event” became a household phrase.32
The bulk of the photographs reproduced in Public Relations were made between 1969 and 1971. Curiously the book includes only one picture each from 1960: the frontispiece, of a Nixon motorcade, titled “Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Campaign, New York, 1960”; from 1967: “Opening Night, Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York, 1967”; and from 1968: a flash shot of a group of people, the one in the center with a bloodied face, titled “Demonstration outside Madison Square Garden, New York, 1968.” There are three photographs from 1972: two of the Jesse Jackson PUSH dinner in Chicago, and one of the Nixon victory celebration in New York; and six from 1973: five from Norman Mailer’s fiftieth birthday party in New York, and one of Elliot Richardson sitting at a table, surrounded by microphones, wires, and tape recorders, the table centered in a large, vacant space between two potted plants. The Richardson picture is the last in the book, unless one counts the snapshot of Winogrand himself, grinning widely and dressed in black tie and camera bag, surrounded by a group of men “trying to get into the picture,” and foregrounded by the tell-tale cord of a strobe light.
What dominates the book are the 30 pictures of cultural events, parties, and openings. What dominates those pictures are women. Many of these photographs directly recall Winogrand’s mid-1950s pictures. Compare, for example, “First Nighters” (figure 21) (reproduced in Photography Annual, 1955), with figures 11, 22, and 23 (reproduced in Public Relations). What marks the difference between the mid-1950s and the late 1960s is the fashion of dress, and, more importantly relative to Winogrand, the presence of a heavy overall graininess in the early pictures and its absence in the later ones. But this difference also characterizes more generally the difference in serious photographic practice in America between the two decades.
The most active and attractive arena for serious photographers in the 1950s was the world of photojournalism led by LIFE magazine, the photography of which soared to new heights under the leadership of photographers such as W. Eugene Smith. Simultaneous with the publication of Robert Frank’s The Americans, graininess became a prominent feature of journalistic and editorial photography, and magazine photography peaked in quantity and quality. As the sixties evolved, television replaced photojournalism, and serious photographers turned to a kind of picture-making that came to be known as independent or personal documentary. The photographers who practiced that form in earnest looked to the exhibition space and to the book, rather than to the magazine, as avenues that could reach a potential audience.
Concurrent with that change was a new awakening, in both the higher-education and the museum communities, to the idea of the photograph as something other than simply “innocent” or “objective” representation and report. The photograph began, once again, to receive attention as a picture or object with a personality, a personality brought to it by its author, its medium, and its context. Some photographs seemed complex enough in reference to deserve a longer life, serious attention, study, interpretation, and explanation.
As the sixties drew to a close, Winogrand and his work became increasingly involved with the art world. His attitude toward it, based on the photographs I’ve seen and on those reproduced in Public Relations, was quite ambiguous—torn, it seems, by love and hate (envy and disdain?). His work seems to straddle directions that still appear to many observers to be in or about different realms of human concern. Eighteen of the book’s other photographs are of varied demonstrations; eleven are of political events; seven are of events related to the 1969 Apollo 11 moon shot. It is difficult to grasp a sense of the larger whole of this book. Yes, most of the pictures are about ritual performance and costume—about facades we plan ahead and put forth for others (certainly not just the media) to see. Perhaps Winogrand was really interested in the “effect of events on the media,” rather than the “effect of the media on events.”
Taking, as a case in point, the seven photographs titled to refer the viewer to the Apollo 11 moon shot, we find not one image of any aspect of the actual event. One picture, “Airport Arrival, Cape Kennedy, Florida, 1969,” presents Vice President Agnew glad-handing in the middle of a line of people debarking from an official government airplane in Florida. No evidence of either the media or the moon shot is present. It is a dull picture, the dullness of which is not relieved by the tilted horizon. It is not an event—not for the media, and not for the public. It is anyone’s record photograph, suitable for a newspaper’s file.
Three of the others were made, the titles tell us, at a state dinner for the astronauts. There is no evidence of dinner. “Attractive,” fashionably coiffed, and elegantly dressed women are at the pivotal point (at which lens and flash are aimed) of each frame. In one of them a guest or two may be recognized, for example, Vice President and Mrs. Hubert H. Humphrey. In others, men, presumably the astronauts, are found caught in the company of women, looking like dazed or silly waiters in their dress uniforms (figure 23).
Two of the Apollo 11 photographs were made at an indoor press conference. Again women dominate. In one, a woman (reporter?) sits in the foreground, at the absolute center of the lower edge of the frame, her back to the photographer and to the viewer. She appears to read (a question?) from a note pad: she has the attention of the eyes, ears, and microphones of the dozen visible males at and around the podium (in number, of course, they dominate the image). In the other photograph five heads (four male and one female) gaze in different directions while distracted or engaged in informal discussions. Winogrand’s lens focusses on the woman’s profile, which, not at the geometric center of the picture, is nonetheless the pivotal point around which the four other heads revolve. She appears to listen in on a conversation between two men. What is the point of these pictures? That press conferences (media events) are non-events? That Winogrand, bored by the non-event, was once again distracted by women?
The most interesting of these Apollo pictures is “Apollo 11 Moon Shot, Cape Kennedy, Florida, 1969” (figure 24). Winogrand’s wide-angle lens spreads a raised platform horizontally across the center of the photograph. Standing on the platform, or its steps, are some fifteen people, all of whom appear to be men, most of whom look up at the sky (away from us) with cupped hands, binoculars, or cameras. Two of them appear to be fidgeting with their cameras; one stares downward at the platform as if lost in thought (or frustration), his camera (or binoculars?) hanging from a strap around his neck and resting on his stomach. At ground level on either end of the platform, in optically deep space, one sees hundreds of (tiny) people. Above the platform, on which are painted the NASA logo and the words “JOHN F. KENNEDY SPACE CENTER,” is open sky; below and in front of the platform is the ground (which appears to be covered with some man-made surface), upon which are three people and their shadows. Two of them are men who face away from us looking up at the sky, one with binoculars, the other with hands cupped over his eyes to avert the glare. The third person, essentially in the center of the frame, is a woman who faces us (Winogrand) with one camera at her eye, apparently photographing Winogrand (us), and a second camera draped over her shoulder, or clutched between her arm and breast. She is the only person clearly identifiable as a woman. She wears what appears to be an ID card around her neck. Again Winogrand places a woman at the axis of his composition.
But what is this picture about? Surely it is not about physically going to the moon. The picture is about looking, about experience (real, vicarious, or imagined) that is imbibed visually. But what is this imbibed experience? It is not the experience of moon exploration, or of space travel, or even of the technology of those activities. It is finally only about a visual experience of being at the site of some very removed and fragmented aspect of the event. It does not really provide any clue to the “effect of the media on events.” However it does underline the existence of media overkill at preplanned media events, events taken out of their “normal” contexts and placed in a context reserved for the hungry eyes and ears of the press.
And that is what most of what Winogrand photographed looks like in his photographs: something taken out of its own context and replaced within Winogrand’s private and distanced, “eyes-only,” physically detached experience of a life of desire and envy. This is not far removed from the meaning of most snapshots taken by the rest of us when we travel, nor perhaps that far removed from the meaning of most journalistic and documentary photographs, nor from that of postcards. And this thought recalls for me the thrust of my earlier discussion of Winogrand’s “Dallas, 1964” (figure 12). Even as we have more knowledge with which to better understand the limitations of visual representation and the unreality of images, we seem, more and more, to want or need to believe someone else’s visual constructions as evidence of our participation in some actuality. We are witnesses to symbols, to what things looked like photographed. And perhaps no photograph communicates this fact better than “Dallas, 1964.” Photographs such as those that consume the attention of Winogrand’s tourists are restricted to an engagement with surfaces and facades. And this is true for much of Winogrand’s work as well.
Most of the Public Relations photographs are about the kinds of facades that were always attractive to Winogrand. In this regard, the content of these pictures is not far removed from what generally attracted Winogrand’s eye on the streets of New York: the women, their dress; the press of flesh; the contrast of gestures, expressions, body postures; the contrast of male and female, old and young—content that parades through Winogrand’s whole body of work. Such content is generally dominant over form in the Public Relations photographs, but, except for the many typical photographs of women depicted as exuding sexuality, the content is presented without any clearly articulated critical stance.
Many of the photographs in Public Relations could have been made by any number of good working journalists. Winogrand’s devices are often simply mannerisms. To the framed segment of the world that he chooses to re-make or re-present, the tilted horizon line may or may not add vitality, focus, balance, unease, or a sense of the insecurity of life that existed during the period straddling the sixties and seventies. One does come away with a certain sense of a pervasive crudeness and disarray, and of a peculiar set of priorities. Winogrand is drawn to the extravagant and the outrageous. Many times he said he hated to be bored, he found life boring—photographed to relieve boredom, photographed to keep the “game” interesting, to “problematize” the ordinary. Unfortunately this sometimes useful attitude was precisely what fed the period’s excesses, its media events, and thus often led to the undermining of the serious reform attempts of the era.
And how do we grapple with the hand of Tod Papageorge in this book? Papageorge accepted responsibility for “forc[ing Winogrand’s] life and work into neater, simpler patterns than they deserve.”33 Winogrand exposed 700 rolls of film on the project. Papageorge selected the 69 pictures in the book from 6,500 11″ x 14” proof prints. He sequenced the work, organized the corresponding exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, and wrote the introduction, which is not so much an introduction to this book as it is an introduction for a monograph on Winogrand’s life and work as a whole. Thomas Consilvio made the prints. What did Winogrand do? How can we relate this to Evans’ American Photographs or Frank’s The Americans? We can’t.
Looking at Winogrand’s other books doesn’t help us find a summary vision of an epoch. The Animals (1969) is a simple book. By his own admission this series of zoo pictures began as a kind of family album idea to record his outings with his children following the breakup of his marriage. Winogrand returned without the children to follow up his observation that the gestures, gazes, and expressions of “free” humans and caged animals had a number of characteristics in common. The pictures do raise questions, present a hint of pathos, and some serious and some nasty humor (often at someone else’s expense) (see figure 17). But generally what we find here are old ideas, cliches and stereotypes given to us as quickly read one-liners, a game at which perhaps Robert Doisneau and Elliott Erwitt are the real masters. Otherwise we have a hodgepodge of simple snapshots, hack pictures, obvious caricature, contrast/comparison, and sarcasm. Even Szarkowski, who has said that The Animals was the most successful of Winogrand’s four books, still wrote in his afterword to that book:
Winogrand’s zoo, even if true, is a grotesquery It is a surreal Disneyland where unlikely human beings and jaded careerist animals stare at each other through bars, exhibiting bad manners and a mutual failure to recognize their own ludicrous predicaments…. Is [Winogrand] intentionally being a spoilsport, or does he really think it funny or edifying, to see a full grown elephant humiliate himself for the sake of a peanut?… The photographer… would claim that he is simply telling it like it is.
Content overwhelms form in this book as well. Winogrand’s vertical stabilizer holds the tilt or diagonal, and thus joins the play of content in some pictures; it does not work in others. Most of these photographs were made in 1962 and 1963, years during which Winogrand produced few great pictures. As in most of his work, there is little, if any, evidence of real joy or pleasure; likewise there is little, if any, evidence of serious thought or enterprise; there is essentially no depth of feeling. There is an overwhelming sense of the presence of the voyeuristic urge in man and animal—the obsession (compulsion) to look. That is consistently present in the work of Winogrand. Watchers watch the watchers.
I can’t find anything here that seriously reflects my memory of the era. I can stretch my willingness hard, and accept the idea that outrageous public display, and a breakdown in morals, manners, and behavior are conveyed here, that the false cover of civilization (evolution) is removed in these zoo pictures as its removal was being pursued in the streets of the sixties. But 1 think it is too far a stretch to be supported by these photographs.
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.
1Winogrand: Figments from the Real World (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1988).
2I would like to thank the extraordinarily generous and helpful staff of the Center for Creative Photography (CCP), in particular: James Enyeart, then director, for persuading me to write this essay; Marcia Tiede, for commitment of mind, good humor, friendship, and an inordinate amount of her time; Amy Rule, for facilitating research in ways beyond the call; Nancy Solomon, for her generous cooperation; Terence Pitts, for making it all work, and for providing (along with his wife, Judy Brown) sustenance to mind, heart, and body during an excruciating week; and Paul Roth, for his devoted service and good humor. The continued support from James Enyeart after his move to the directorship of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House is much appreciated. I am most grateful to Marianne Fulton, Senior Curator, Exhibitions and Photographic Collections, and Ann Stevens, Production Editor at the George Eastman House, for their constructive suggestions, many of which have been adopted and have substantially improved the text. To CCP, the Fraenkel Gallery, The Museum of Modern Art, the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, and to Eileen Adele Hale I am grateful for reproduction prints and the permission to reproduce them.
George Eastman House
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
* 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
(Text @ Carl Chiarenza – all images © copyright the photographer and/or publisher)