Garry Winogrand at SFMOMA
June 1, 2013
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The Garry Winogrand retrospective at SFMOMA is closing and I wanted to convey my appreciation for the exhibition and how pleasantly surprised I was to enjoy it. Not being a street photographer myself, and only half-heartedly accepting Winogrand’s status in photographic history previous to viewing the show, it was probably my profound lack of expectation that created the new enthusiasm I came away with for the work.
The photographer’s shoot from the hip, catch anything that moves approach resulted in perhaps 1 out of every 50-100 frames of 35mm film capturing something interesting, and with the constant barrage of mindless imagery produced by the masses today for countless purposes, it would seem that Winogrand was merely famous as an oracle of what would follow in his wake. While I was thoroughly familiar with the majority of his canonical images and had seen another grouping of his work previously about a decade ago at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona it was really the all-encompassing bombardment of visuals that allowed for the greater receptivity of the exhibit’s impact. When studying the hundreds of photographs in the exposition one gets a deeper sense that Winogrand was similar to Cartier-Bresson in his quest for decisive moments, but instead of resulting in the often design-based études of the great French photographer, Winogrand pictures display subtle and pensive narratives that provide us with clues, but rarely with answers. The decades worth of work on view reaches its pinnacle early on in the New York and cross-country photographs of the 1960’s but taken as a whole the effect is that of an operator who gave us glimpses of reality through the nuanced subjectivity of the camera and its wielder.
I have chosen to isolate the single photograph here because it was beforehand unknown to myself and was the picture that caught my eye from a distance and continued to intrigue me after my departure from the museum. In this 1969 image captured in New York we see the subject of the photo staring out towards the viewer (via Winogrand) and registering his anger and contempt for either the photographer or some other person not discernible from the framing. I love this picture because it sums up the nerve and bravado that accompanies street photography and the ability of the photographer to get the shot even at the expense of potentially having their arse kicked in. That kind of daring is half the reason that the show is so successful with the remainder lying in that this person did have a great eye for a picture (even if it first needed to edit down from thousands of them before refining it).