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?

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17 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    I took a class from Winograd, whose work I admired, in Truckee in 1980 and found it profoundly disillusioning. He didn’t even aim the camera. He just picked a likely focus on his Leica and fired away without looking. He then had someone develop some of his film, randomly looked at some and had a few shots printed, again by someone else.

    He made his living selling portfolios to rich people for $X and giving them a certificate that it was worth $10X, so they would get a tax deduction for more than they had paid. I said this was immoral and he said it was government subsidy of the arts.

    I admit that he took some powerful photos, but an infinite number of monkeys would eventually . . .

  2. Gilden is my street shooting hero. I wish I could spend a day shooting with him.

  3. Brad says:

    Actually, I think there’s little change at all over the years. And the issues you read about are over-amplified.

    I’ve found that if you go about street shooting in a direct straightforward manner, there’s no problem. It’s photogs that sneak around doing hip shots or snipe with telephotos from a distance that draw suspicion and have problems. I shoot relatively wide (from 24 – 35mm FF) and am very direct – and everything’s fine. No serious issues with > 100K pix. Have many other SP friends with similar experiences both here in SF and NY.

    Watch Winogrand’s (and Gilden’s) videos. Same approach.

  4. Ulrich says:

    Brad: Exactly what I was about to answer.

    And: I am tired to read about Winogrand or Cartier-Bresson in every other online entry when it comes to street photography or even photography in general. Let photographs speak instead.

  5. Mark Welsh says:

    I’m a beginning photographer and have 8000 shutter actions on my K20D Pentax. I’m not that comfortable on the street yet and find myself sneeking an occasional shot from the back of someone. However I’m more into signage and buildings and these days its dark almost after I’m off work so I’m doing more low light stuff.
    I personally would prefer to be a direct kind of person yet there is a kind of adrenaline rush from just pointing the camera at someone and taking the shot.

  6. I love street photography. I started doing it right after I first picked up a camera in the mid 1980’s (before I knew there was a name for what I was doing) and the techniques I developed then have stood me in good stead in my digital incarnation. I started off with an M4. My photo guru insisted that I do that so that I would learn to use hyperfocal distance, and learn how to read light (there’s no light meter in an M4) and get good exposures by using my eye. So it wasn’t essential for me to lift the camera to my eye to get the shot (except to frame the image, but I shot very wide most of the time – 21mm – and cropped as needed anyway, but cropping is a whole different matter).

    I have found that the techniques I learn doing street photography have helped me immensely in my documentary work. My latest book “I Hear A Voice Calling” has been a pleasant (but not, unfortunately, earth-shattering) success.

    When I shoot digital I very often, having learned at what angle to hold the camera and what focal lenghth to use, I ‘shoot from the hip’. I don’t do flickr. But I often post images on my blog genelowinger.blogspot.com or my website http://www.genelowinger.com

  7. cj gordon says:

    I live in a smallish Canadian town and have not had any problems yet with my street work.A bit different situation here than a large city in the USA.People can always see my camera and folks will ask about my picture taking so I tell them how to get to my blog and have a look if they like.That seems to work but maybe it helps that I come across openly and also have the appearance of someone you might want to think twice about messing with.I’m reasonably big and ugly.

  8. Rob-L says:

    I find it ironic that the general public gets uptight when some one takes their picture, yet every where they go they’re being video taped by “security” cameras. There are literally dozens of cameras taking their picture everyday and no one gives them a second thought (or thinks about them at all).

    Unfortunately, a few bad apples spoil the barrel. People like the guy who video taped Erin Andrews get negative headlines, so do misbehaving paparazzi and I think this sticks in the minds of most people.

  9. Spike says:

    >>I am tired to read about Winogrand or Cartier-Bresson in every other online entry when it comes to street photography …

    WOW, me too! What is it, people don’t know of any other street photographers? It’s the same as all the references to Adams and Weston. Boooring.

    >>Actually, I think there’s little change at all over the years.

    And I agree with this too. I’ve shot on the street for over 40 years. I have a problem about once a year, and it usually turns out to be someone with a variety of problems. If you’re out there and you seem to belong there, people don’t care. If you act like you just came in from the superior planet, it’s not going to work.

    >>I’m not that comfortable on the street yet

    It’s my fervent belief that you have to be comfortable on the street without a camera before you can be with a camera. Walk around for a few months, chat with people, hang on the street where other people are. Once you get the rhythm and the vibe, you can come back with the camera. People won’t even notice if you’ve really become a part of it.

  10. Thomas Hawk says:

    He made his living selling portfolios to rich people for $X and giving them a certificate that it was worth $10X, so they would get a tax deduction for more than they had paid. I said this was immoral and he said it was government subsidy of the arts.

    Steve, this is interesting. I’ve never heard this before. I’m curious how that would work though. Let’s say someone bought a series of photographs from Winogrand for $10,000. And then he stated they were worth $100,000. Why would this result in a tax deduction? This would seem like a capital gain if anything.

    Or are you saying the rich person wold then turn around and donate the images to a museum for the inflated value realizing a tax deduction larger than they’d paid for the images?

  11. I agree with the other commenters: Based on my experience doing street photography in NYC and elsewhere, I have not experienced the kinds of hassles that you describe. I use the “shoot-and-scram” technique and do my best to avoid conflict or confrontation. Gilden’s approach doesn’t work for me.

    Steve’s comment about Garry (“He didn’t even aim the camera. He just picked a likely focus on his Leica and fired away without looking.”) is very different from what I observed when I studied with him in 1976, and surprising. He always looked through the viewfinder, even if it was just for a split second. Sometimes it looked like he wasn’t looking but I watched him very carefully! I had several conversations about this with him and he insisted emphasized the importance of framing carefully.

    Finally, I couldn’t agree with Ulrich more: Let’s see the pictures!

  12. Steve says:

    Exactly. They would get a deduction from a gift to a museum or other charitable institution.. He may have had to wait a while and then the purchaser would claim they appreciated. This was 1980 and my impression is that the tax laws have tightened. I backed off when I realized he was touchy. I was trying to learn photography!

  13. Thomas Hawk says:

    He may have had to wait a while and then the purchaser would claim they appreciated. This was 1980 and my impression is that the tax laws have tightened. I backed off when I realized he was touchy. I was trying to learn photography!

    Yeah, that does seem a bit questionable. I imagine a lot of that probably goes on in the world of all sorts of collectibles though.

  14. Andy Frazer says:

    I agree that the general public is more “informed” and more aware of being exploited via the internet, and it certainly may have become more difficult to do the street photography gig. But even though I’ve watched all of the available on-line documentaries of Winogrand (my personal SPy hero) I really don’t know how tough it was for him versus SPy’ers today. I do know that he had this clever, misleading method of shooting and then pulling away the camera which gave the impression that he had decided to abort the shot at the last second. I’m not saying that it made it simple for him. He was the best, and may always remain the best in spite of the digital revolution. And we may never know how difficult he had it. Just because he succeeded and produced a massive amount of successful work, doesn’t mean it was easy for him. Let’s not assume that he had it easy and we have it so tough, now.

  15. Bill Storage says:

    Yeah, that does seem a bit questionable. I imagine a lot of that probably goes on in the world of all sorts of collectibles though.

    In about 1991, in order to get more stuff into musuems, the IRS tried an experiment where you were allowed to use the current value rather than your purchase price as the basis for your deduction, as long as the museum was qualified and the donated item was “capital gain property” (would have resulted in long term cap gain if sold instead of donated). I recall they were happy with the results and intended to extend it for a while. In theory, if you were good at picking art that would appreciate quickly, you could effectively make money on dontating art at atime when its writeoff value exceeded your purchase price. I’m not sure of the status of donation rules now.

  16. Brian Lawson says:

    I think the reason street photography is more difficult today is because more people simply are aware that they are not bound by the behavior of the photographer, and have the right to assert their desire to not be photographed.

    I believe taking a photograph in public of someone without the subject’s consent is unethical since it might be perceived as intrusive (harmful) by the subject.

    Whether or not the photograph “feels” the same way about that intrusion is irrelevant since the photographer’s intent for taking, or distributing, the photograph is unknown and unknowable to the subject at the time of the behavior. Therefore, the ethical issue is not based in the photographer’s intent to do/not do harm, or belief that harm was/was not done, but in the subject’s perception of harm done.

    If you accept that other people have rights equal to yours, and that the subject’s perception of harm to those rights is as valid as your (possible) perception that no harm is done, the only reasoned and reasonable course, as the person affirmatively taking the action, is to stop your behavior. However, if you assert your right to take the photograph despite the subject’s (possible) perception of harm, which is unknowable to you, your behavior indicates that you believe your rights are superior to the subject’s rights, and that is unethical.
    Brian

  17. Planet of the Leicas (Damn dirty (Summilux) Ape(ndage))s says:

    BIG SNIPS FORE AND AFT (BECAUSE IT IS THE WILL OF LANDREW…)

    “Therefore, the ethical issue is not based in the photographer’s intent to do/not do harm, or belief that harm was/was not done, but in the subject’s perception of harm done.”

    There is no “ethical issue” here, just ___your___ perception and ___your___ feelings which you have ___rebranded___ and “martyrfied” into an “ethical” issue! Also, perception of harm done is ___not___ harm done, its just (your) perception.

    BIG SNIP

    “However, if you assert your right to take the photograph despite the subject’s (possible) perception of harm, which is unknowable to you, your behavior indicates that you believe your rights are superior to the subject’s rights, and that is unethical.
    Brian”

    SO SAITH THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF THE PERCEIVED ETHICAL (LIFE OF) BRIAN…

    Your thinking is flawed, your feelings not gospel or even the law, Brian. No, it indicates that I believe my rights are ___equal___ to the subject’s rights and that I (as you) have the right to assert those rights and that the law (within the bounds of the constitution) determines what is permissable behaviour regardless of who does or doesn’t feel and/or perceive to be harmed. Feelings are not an issue nor are feelings an ethics issue in particular. They are simply (or complexly) feelings, nothing more, nothing less. Neither is perception of harm done actual harm done. Perceive away or go away – that’s your choice. You are free to perceive and/or to feel as you wish. Photographing is my (and others choice). Your label of “unethical” is just that, _____your_____ label and in my “perception” your thought process is misguided if not unethical itself. Get off the high horse of being in love with your/other’s feelings and look at the facts.

    THE FACTS

    What are the facts?

    There is no right to privacy in public places, especially places as public as “the streets.” That’s a legal fact. That’s why they are called “public places.” Don’t cry foul or unethical if you go out in public and end up in a gallery or someone’s cell phone. If you don’t want to be photographed in public then don’t go out in public or cover your face, move to Mars (less street photographers per square mile there) etc. By all means stay away from Bruce Gilden and his Gildenettes (liitle copy cat clones) with their 21mm (24mm or 28mm? – does he switch off between these 3 lenses? I’ve heard all three mentioned by him or about his lensmanship (is that a word?)) M-6->9 film or digital Leicas and above all else stay away from the ghost of Sleepy Hollow (the headless ghost of Gary Winogrand sweeping down with his 28mm Canon (yes he really did use a Canon not a Leica lens, what was he thinking/perceiving – where is the brand snobbery in that!)lensed Leica dragging bags full of exposed yet undeveloped Tri-X from his film cabinets ready to sweep down on you like El Kabong (sp?) with his guitar club. When the Martians finally come down to take over the world, run away, because they are not carrying ray guns but cell phones on a 3G network. Beware of little green men running down the street with Leicas (or ask Scotty to beam you up into a star ship with a feelings force field and set your phasers on “imaginarily stunn(t)ed”) because one of them is not so little, it is Orson Welles and he will ‘eat no Leitz Wetzlar before its time.’

    There is a right to freedom of speech – its in the first ammendment of the constitution. Look it up…

    Don’t use feelings, ethics or perception of harm as “buzzword bludgeons”, though, to try to denounce if not take away the rights of others to express their first ammendment rights. They have just as much right to express their free speech photographically as you do through talking, drawing, writing poems or articles, or, gasp, photographing others.

    FEELINGS ARE NOT ETHICS

    Don’t mistake feelings or perception of harm for ethics. “Ethically” you have the right to feel whatever you want (and so does a photographer or anyone else with or without a camera) but don’t confuse feelings with ethics. Feelings and perceptions don’t determine rights or ethics, only laws do. Your “ethics” (really your hurt or otherwise ____feelings____ which you perceive to be your moral ethics) are your ethics alone, not mine, not others. You have the right to feel any way you want to but not at the expense of the rights of me or others – whether those others are photographers or not. Perception of harm done is not harm done. This is not a moral issue or a perception issue but a legal one. Feelings don’t trump rights, its the other way around, otherwise I, or anybody else for that matter would be able to take away your rights just because of my feelings/perception of you. They’ll pry away my camera and right to photograph in public from my cold dead hands. God bless Kodachrome and long live the first ammendment!! Damn it! Pardon me, I meant only double darn Don Johnson Pardo doo hickey red and yellow lollipops fudge sugar sugar honey honey may cotton candy clouds of pillows fall on your ethical parade (but only if the rain drops keep falling on my head just like a guy whose feet are too big for his head)and disappear with your perception before they harm the double pinky swear hopscotch ground with their perceived boo boo but only with His Majesty’s (a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lotto to say)permission… “Oh…. Ricky… Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    “I once shot an elephant with a Leica in my pajamas… how he could afford a Leica, I’ll never know”…