the first thing that strikes you about garry winogrand’s photographs is how ordinary the events are—like scenes you might pass on your way to get lunch or on a night out with friends. yet they are, simultaneously, extraordinary.
known primarily as a street photographer (but also one of the greatest documentary photographers of the 20th century), winogrand had a particularly sophisticated snapshot aesthetic that transformed everyday events—with precise timing and framing—into visual commentaries on modern life in new york city and america from the 1950s through 1980s. he photographed the wealthy and the powerful and everyday strangers on the street, antiwar protestors and famous actors, and airports and zoos with the same genuine fascination, energy, and, often, humor.
“if you didn’t take the picture, you weren’t there,” winogrand once said. of course, this was before the age of instagram and iphones, and probably speaks more to the emotion embedded in his unfiltered, off-kilter photographic observations than the idea of documenting something for our friends to offer comment. winogrand famously took approximately 26,000 rolls of film in his career (6,600 of which he never saw and were developed after his death in 1984)—a testament to just how voracious his cultural curiosity was.
garry winogrand, on now through september 21st at the metropolitan museum of art in new york city, is the first retrospective of his work in 25 years, a visual feast of 175 images (including the above) along with artifacts from his career. one of the unexpected joys, though, of the exhibit, is catching bits of conversations from local exhibit goers talking amongst themselves about the images with a sense of familiarity—whether they recognize the location of a particular photo, what was happening culturally at the time of another, or knew winogrand himself.
that’s the other thing that makes his work so extraordinary: his photos are conversation starters.
Filed under: deliberate polish