Garry Winogrand is a famous photographer whose career spanned the 1960s and ’70s, for the most part. He was born in New York City, USA in 1928 and died 56-years later in Mexico after retreating there to find an alternative treatment for his newly discovered gallbladder cancer.
Winogrand was apparently obsessed with taking photographs and this obsession, along with his casual attitude to real-life issues such as paying the bills and taxes etc, took its toll on his personal life. He was married three times with both of his first two wives said to feel like being married to Garry was like being married to a lens. After his death, all three of his wives went to the funeral where one wrote a note that read:
But my analyst bill is not even relevant at this point. What is extremely relevant is the money you owe the government in back taxes. Your inability to pay the rent on time. Your constantly running out of money. Your credit rating. And most of all, your flippant, irresponsible, nonsensical attitude toward all these very real problems. (‘I’ll wait till the government catches up with me. Why should I pay them any money now?’) You seem incapable of exercising your mind in any cogent way.
I get the impression that many of the greats of art and photography have/had the same outlook on life as Garry Winogrand; Their art comes first and foremost.
For his efforts, Winogrand was awarded three Guggenheim Foundation awards that allowed him the financial means to go off and spend time with his camera documenting the US social climate of the time.
He is most famed for his street photography and the candid shots he got of people busily going about their daily routines. One body of work that was deemed controversial was titled, “Women are Beautiful” and consisted of many photos of women in public places just going about their business. It would seem that many of these subjects were unaware that they were being photographed and this is what seems to have got some people’s backs up. One critic said of this work:
Most of Winogrand’s photos are taken of women in either vulgar or at least, questionable positions and seem to be taken unknown to them. This candid approach adds an element of disconnect between the viewer and the viewed, which creates awkwardness in the images themselves.
Perhaps it was a sign of the times and the fact that feminism was a hot topic, but I don’t really understand the harsh criticism of the images. Maybe it’s a sign of the times or that the critic was trying to further their own reputation by jumping on the bandwagon of a hot topic of the times. This is done all the time and so wouldn’t surprise me if it was the case.
The images were taken as Winogrand had a love for the female form and so wanted to show it via the best way he knew, through the lens of his camera doing what he loved best, candid street photography.
Let’s be honest here, as politically incorrect as it may be to say these days, I think it’s pretty clear what part of the female form Garry Winogrand really found to be beautiful, right?
Just to read the critic’s words about this piece of work and not see the images got me jumping straight on to the photographer’s side but, after seeing the collection of images, I think the critic does indeed have a strong case to back up his criticism.
Another image I feel would get jumped on by the left-wing liberals of today’s world is one from his first photo book titled, The Animals (1969). This book is a series of images he took at the time he was a single father when he’d take his offspring to the Bronx Zoo. He’d take photos of people and animals together in some way shape or form. The image below is the one that I think would get a lot of hate in today’s society.
Whether these two people are a couple or not will never be known, but the sharp-eyed Winogrand saw an opportunity to create an image that would be controversial to many who would see it whereas the subjects probably didn’t even think about the implications of their innocent act of interacting with the chimpanzees. Racial hatred and mistrust seem like they’re always going to be around, but back when this image was taken I’m sure it was more prevalent. This image screams of the horror offspring of a union such as the couple who are the subjects of this image, to certain racists, anyway. This is a perfect example of a perfectly innocent event that can be photographed and interpreted in many different ways depending on the person(s) looking at it. We don’t know the full story of this moment and the subjects of the image and so we let our minds fill in the blanks purely from what we see in the image. This may be a controversial image but it’s such a good example of seeing an seizing the moment to create an image that will get recognition.
Winogrand wasn’t always controversial and spent most of his time photographing and documenting the people of his native city of New York as well as other cities around the US and the odd excursion to Europe. It’s said that his approach to taking pictures was actually much less intrusive than some other famed street photographers as he generally got his shots from afar.
Winogrand’s work has been exhibited many many times, most often in the US, and there is said to be some 12,000 unprocessed images from his later work. I often read that the way we get better as photographers is to be always taking photographs. It seems to me that Garry Winogrand is an exponent of this theory and has been recognized for it.
A quote I like made by Winogrand says:
Photography is not about the thing photographed, it is about how that thing looks photographed.
With ambient and added light, plus angles, backgrounds and depth of field etc, as well as cropping and all the other editing processes we have at our disposal, this quote is very much true, in my eyes.