all photos from the opening: Franz Mahr, all others: Winogrand
When Garry Winogrand died, suddenly in 1984, just weeks after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he left behind him a body of work that was largely unseen and under-appreciated. This was partially because Winogrand preferred shooting to developing and editing and by that time, simply never got around to spending enough time with the thousands of contact sheets she left behind, many largely unmarked.
Now, 30 years after his death and 25 years since the last retrospective show of any kind, this weekend, The National Gallery of Art is about to roll out a definitive exhibit on Winogrand which allows the viewer to finally spend some quality time with this master of “in the moment” photography. Those contact sheets have been perused by the curatorial team (spearheaded by Leo Rubinfein, fellow photographer and friend of Winogrand’s from his LA days) and a veritable treasure trove from this Godfather of street photography has been unveiled.
Winogrand (and his work) in relation have been described as “irrepressible”, “garrolous”, “generous in spirit” and “often ironic yet laced with affection” and each one of these works testifies to that. A lover of women, animals and moments no one else would appreciate, Winogrand approached photography in a way that reflected on how he approached life: with a repudiation for the sentimental, a great prizing of style and the idea that one “does not go out into the world simply to take a great photo, one goes out into the world to learn about the world and experience it, and if a great photo happens as a result then – great” and you can see that in his work: moments simply happened around Winogrand and he had the good reflexes to catch the most magical of them.
The exhibit itself is separated into three periods of Winogrand’s work: his New York days, in a city whose streets he saw as a great theatre themselves, the “Student of America” era, which saw Winogrand head west and explore the space and fundamental freedom it allows, and finally Boom and Bust, his later photographs from his move to LA. The latter is especially fascinating to see because a lot of these images are not what people usually associate with Winogrand’s iconic work: a little tarnished, darker in spirit but still, as Rubinfein noted, showing a “bleak, but still deeply, darkly, shining beauty”.
Winogrand moved to LA as a natural progression of his work-it was a place where his themes could come to a logical climax, but you can sense a light strain in some of those later shots – his (maybe?) insecurity in knowing, in this unknown world, that he IS capturing the right subject. And with most of these photos being unprocessed before the effort to put this show together came about it is hard to know which would have been the ones he himself would have chosen (and if, for that matter, he would have had it in him, temperamentally, to even carry out this extensive of a review) but that only adds to the heartbreak felt in some of them.
This show, aside from being a monumental effort and a love letter to one of 20th centuries greatest photographers and a pioneer of what we now undestand as fine art photography work, it is also a must see for anyone who: is a lover or maker of photographs, a student of the human condition or someone looking to reconnect with the magic of the every day. Winogrand saw and loved the world around him truthfully and that made his work a great place to redevelop that crush on everything that surrounds us. A must see.
Garry Winogrand opens @ National Gallery of Art this Sunday, March 2nd and you have till June 8th to see it multiple times. Do that.