Influences: Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand (14 January 1928, New York City – 19 March 1984, Tijuana, Mexico) was considered by many to be the central photographer of his generation. A street photographer by nature, Winogrand rose to fame, eventually shooting some of the most famous people of his day.

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John F. Whatchamacallit

Marilyn Monroe, on the set of “The Seven Year Itch”

Winogrand’s upbringing wasn’t much different than a lot of photographers of his ilk — having been exposed to New York City’s street life and diversity from an early age. From Wikipedia:

Winogrand grew up in the then predominantly Jewish working-class area of the Bronx, New York, where his father, Abraham, was a leather worker, and his mother, Bertha, made neckties for piecemeal work.[4][5]

Winogrand studied painting at City College of New York and painting and photography at Columbia University in New York City in 1948. He also attended a photojournalism class taught by Alexey Brodovich at The New School for Social Research in New York City in 1951.

In the early 1960s Winogrand photographed on the streets of New York City alongside Joel Meyerowitz, Lee Friedlander, Tod Papageorge and Diane Arbus.[6][7]

In 1955 two of Winogrand’s photos appeared in The Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. Winogrand’s first one-man show was held at Image Gallery in New York City in 1959. His first notable appearance was in Five Unrelated Photographers in 1963, also at MoMA in New York City, along with Minor White, George Krause, Jerome Liebling and Ken Heyman. In 1966 Winogrand exhibited at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York with Lee Friedlander, Duane Michals, Bruce Davidson, and Danny Lyon in an exhibition entitled Toward a Social Landscape. In 1967 he participated in the New Documents show at MoMA in New York City with Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, curated by John Szarkowski.

Like Arbus (whom I’ll be profiling next) Winogrand developed a style that was frank and unflinching. His subjects, whether known or unknown, look directly at the camera. Winogrand takes the shot and doesn’t flinch. Flinching is for suckers; flinching is a miss; flinching doesn’t get the shot.

His photos are simple. They capture the “What Is” a technique that I modeled myself after. In truth, I was more influenced by Diane Arbus’s similar style than Winogrand’s, but his is the work closest to what I’ve attempted to capture. (Please don’t think that means I think I’m a Winogrand. It means I’m a wannabe Winogrand.) The shots were quick and prolific. At his death, survivors discovered some 9,000 rolls of undeveloped or unprocessed film. Even in today’s digital age, those hundreds of thousands of unworked images would be another shooter’s lifetime of work. He sometimes shot from the hip. Horizons would slant or exposures would be off, but he’d get the shot.

003 www.pinterest.comI think it’s because he knew that in the end, the only thing we’d remember is the shot. Get the shot. Take it; don’t flinch. All the tech will sort itself. Every day that I pull out my camera, I think that simple mantra. The best, you see, don’t worry about the science. They were artists. Just get a great camera and trust it.

Garry Winogrand's Leica M4

Garry Winogrand’s Leica M4

No huge SLR, as you can see. Today’s equivalents are simple: Fujifilm’s X-series (at the low end) or Leica. There are others, of course, but none so small, adaptable and sharp. Today’s equivalent digital Leica is the cleverly named Leica M Digital, retailing for just south of $7,000. (The reason he didn’t use a big Leica medium format SLR, most likely, is that they cost–in today’s dollars–between $22,000 and $35,000.)

The ultimate mark of a street shooter, in my opinion, is that the high-brow museum types acknowledge their work.

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More than anything, my connection with his work is personal. He’s the only famous photographer whose style reminds me of my own. I would have loved to have sat with him for an afternoon.

I had the privilege of attending a Winogrand exhibit at Washington’s National Gallery of Art. It was the largest such exhibition I’d personally attended there, fitting for so prolific an artist. For those of you who couldn’t attend, here’s a smaller gallery. Click any image to view the slideshow.

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10 thoughts on “Influences: Garry Winogrand

  1. The man had a wicked trigger finger! Really nice post love. Thank you for sharing your passion, and your experience at the gallery. I was eager to see and compare his style with yours as you had mentioned the similarity at the time. I can see what you mean. Shooting in B+W always enhances the impact of the shot too, it’s a different style of photography I think, shooting in monochrome. I would almost say I prefer it, although it doesn’t always work to best effect.

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    • I think many photographers used B&W because it was cheap, and because it’s easier to make things look more dramatic. I must confess, however, I still prefer to shoot in color most of the time.

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      • I remember as a young kid not appreciating the merits of B+W film. My Dad would buy it for his camera because it was cheaper. But then I grew up with a B+W TV, so I think any image in colour was preferable, it was just more cool and modern!
        I love how dramatic and arty shots in monochrome can be, particularly when it comes to street photography, oh, and architecture, which is funny considering how much I am in love with colour. Both mediums have their merits, but you still need a good understanding of tone and contrast to achieve either well. Something I think you do exceptionally well in colour.

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