Thinking About Garry Winogrand
“I don’t know if all the women in the photographs are beautiful, but I do know that the women are beautiful in the photographs.”
— Garry Winogrand
Garry Winogrand’s one of my biggest personal heroes. The ultimate street photographer, Garry was a non-stop photographic machine. His were the pre-digital days. He devoured film with an appetite previously unmatched. He shot film like many photographers shoot digital today. Frenetic, non-stop, with only an occasional break to reload. He shot almost every day and while he crisscrossed the country shooting the best of America, he always remained a quintessential New Yorker at heart.
When Garry died at an early age of 56 he left John Szarkowski, then director of the NY MOMA, with the task of editing what he left behind, 6,500 rolls of unprinted and 2,500 rolls of undeveloped 35mm negatives (about 300,000 frames).
Last week I was talking with photographer Bill Storage about Winogrand over a few beers. Bill suggested that Winogrand may have been living in the golden age of photography, a time when access to people on the street was easier and simpler. Back before people with cameras felt as threatening in a way. Bill suggested that this sort of camera acceptance and access that Winogrand had for himself in the 60s, 70s and 80s may have been at least part of what made him so successful in his street photography. Bill suggested that things have now changed though, chronicling a few of his own personal run ins while out on the street shooting.
“I fear that since the time when Garry Winogrand captured an entire generation on film, changing attitudes toward property and privacy, combined with a lot of jerks with cameras, have spoiled my chances of doing the same (“photographers held for questioning on role in death of Princess Diana…”). It’s not that I have a goal of chronicling life in this era, but if I did, I fear that I’d face frustrations Winogrand never dreamed of.”
As a photographer who shoots out on the street almost every day, I feel a bit of what Bill is talking about. Security guards and other authority figures are part of the problem sometimes, but I think another big part of it is just that the general public in general are more hostile towards photographers. Maybe it’s how easy we can publish to the web today and fear that something incriminating or damaging may be published. Or maybe it’s the fear of the public pervert. The guy who’s out there snapping picks for his upskirt website or just to get off on.
Even today on Flickr many users have had their accounts or groups deleted when Flickr’s felt that they’ve focused too much on “voyeuristic” photography. I wonder if Flickr would have deleted Garry’s account if he were around today?
Garry Winogrand loved shooting woman. He published a book of photographs of women. Initially he wanted to call the book Confessions of a Male Chauvinist Pig, but his publisher wouldn’t allow it and instead made him change the title to the less controversial “Women Are Beautiful.”
I published a thread in DMU on Flickr earlier tonight starting a conversation about Winogrand’s photographs of women, encouraging people to post their own street photographs of the anonymous woman. I shoot a lot of women (and men too) out on the street frequently. Sometimes you get away with it. Other times there is tension and even small altercations. Mostly you learn how to quickly disengage if necessary. Shoot and scram to liberally paraphrase Cartier-Bresson.
I was also thinking earlier tonight about the controversial shooting style of Bruce Gilden. Gilden, a well respected professional photographer and Magnum member, is in some aspects a more modern, albeit far less prolific, version of Winogrand. Like Winogrand, Gilden shoots street, but certainly with a brazen in your face style of shooting that many might find offensive. Do today’s times require Gilden’s in your face approach, to truly get the successful street shot? Is personal confrontation now part of the game?
I wonder how much confrontation was a part of Winogrand’s game. Was shooting street a lot easier in the 60s and 70s? Winogrand always struck me more as an aw shucks sort of guy who could talk his way out of confrontations with a wink and a smile and a few well place charming words rather than Gilden’s approach today. But has the landscape changed that the most successful street artists are either shooting like Gilden or with a 300mm lens?
Who are your street photography heroes? Who is out there doing it right today do you think and who is doing it wrong and why?