The Center for Creative Photography is devoting the rest of the year to a two-part exhibition of work by this important American photographer. The current exhibition at the Center for Creative Photography, The Garry Winogrand Game of Photography, Part I: The Known, is a monumental retrospective of 180 photographs from all of his major bodies of work, most of which have been previously published or exhibited. The exhibition, which also includes historical documents, was curated by Trudy Wilner Stack, the Center's curator of collections and exhibitions, and Karen Jenkins, the Center's special projects curatorial assistant.
The Garry Winogrand Game of Photography, Part II: The New, which opens on November 11, will feature approximately 180 Winogrand photographs from the Center's archives that have never been seen before. Part II was curated by six nationally known figures in the photography world.
Through the advocacy of John Szarkowski, then the director of New York's Museum of Modern Art's photography department, Winogrand became one of the first "New Documentarians" in the late 1960s. This school of photography was based on the idea that a photographic representation of a scene could not be a straight document because it reflected the subjective perspective of the photographer.
Although the composition of Winogrand's work is more informal than his predecessors, at times he uses what French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson named "the decisive moment." For Winogrand, that means images like a man in a suit who is doing a flip on a trampoline caught at the moment his legs are straight upside down or a man who is smoking caught at the moment his face is hidden by the billowing cigarette smoke.
Winogrand bristled at being called a "street photographer," but he is best known for his photographs of people on urban streets, especially in New York City. For example, the details in his photograph of a beautiful woman with her head thrown back in laughter make it a wonderful image. She is holding an ice-cream cone and is standing in front of a storefront display of a headless mannequin wearing a man's suit and tie. Part of the magic of the image is wondering what she is laughing at.
Yet the catalog for the original exhibition in which the photograph appeared includes another three images that Winogrand shot to come up with this one. Here we can see the woman standing around and chatting with the man who presumably told the good joke. So not all "decisive moments" are instantaneous, apocalyptic electricity. Yet people talk about how Winogrand, who was a big man, managed to move through the world unseen, or if seen, how he was accepted by those he photographed.
Throughout his career, Winogrand did many other series, and Part I includes samples from all of his major projects. He began as a magazine photographer in the 1950s. Through the 1960s and 1970s, he also photographed the zoo, airports, the stockyards in Fort Worth, the American press and always, everywhere, women.
Part I includes six of the 25 controversial, posthumously printed photographs selected by New York's Museum of Modern Art for its 1988 retrospective exhibition. When he died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 56, Winogrand left behind 2,500 rolls of film that had not been developed and 6,500 rolls that had been developed but not printed onto contact sheets. All together there were over a third of a million images that Winogrand had never seen, according to Szarkowski.
Szarkowski worked with Tod Papageorge, Thomas Roma and Sarah Anne McNear to get all of the film developed and proofed. They selected 25 works to be printed by Winogrand's last printer, Tom Consilvo, and exhibited at MOMA. In the exhibition catalog, Szarkowski notes that the last few thousand rolls of film have many types of technical problems, including Winogrand's inability to hold the camera steady when the images were exposed.
People have speculated about what drove Winogrand to such obsessive behavior, to such incessant photographing. In his later years, Winogrand acquired a motor-driven film advance for one of his cameras, and he shot photographs from the passenger window of a car while friends drove him around. Not surprisingly, the number of his images multiplied and their quality degenerated. An interesting question is whether Winogrand knew the quality of his work was sinking. Did he continue anyway because he only cared about the need that the manic shooting process satisfied?
Presumably, The Garry Winogrand Game of Photography, Part II: The New will evoke a question similar to the one raised by the controversial MOMA exhibition: Should other people be allowed to choose to posthumously exhibit prints that a photographer did not exhibit in his own lifetime? Although using existing prints is not as radical as creating prints the photographer never viewed, artists often preserve some artworks as records of their process without intending for those works to be viewed publicly. Yet if artists don't leave very specific instructions about their estate, they essentially leave the future of their artwork in someone else's hand.
In his prime, Winogrand helped bring something new to American photography. In the 1950s, he captured an effervescent world that has since slipped away, and in the 1960s, he looked into the crowd and saw the faces most people were not even looking for. The Center's retrospective offers Winogrand's bodies of work in samplings, but taken as a whole even this first exhibition is almost overwhelming as a vision of his photographic heritage.