Five Favorite Photos is a new feature where one of the writers here at CP picks a well-known photographer and takes on the near-impossible task of picking just five favorite shots from that pro. Today’s FFP comes by way of Jeb, and the shooter spotlight is on Garry Winogrand. Enjoy.
Garry Winogrand was many things; prolific, a master of street photography, and an auteur of the American experience in the 20th century. Two things he wasn’t; self-important and pompous. Once during a presentation at a college, a photography student asked him how long it took him to make an image. He succinctly replied, “1/60th of a second.”
But one of the best examples of how grounded Winogrand was came when he was interviewed by a woman named Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel at the New School in New York. As expected, Diamondstein-Spielvogel spent the better part of half an hour trying to get Winogrand to wax poetic on his work. In true Winogrand fashion, he stiff-armed her.
BDS: “The term street photography and your name have been synonymous for quite some time. But the streets are not the only place you’ve worked over the last 25 years… There must be some common thread that runs through all your work.”
GW: “I’m not going to get into that… I think it’s so stupid. Street photographer? They have to have a whole list of titles… if you’re gonna do that.”
BDS: “How would you prefer to describe yourself?”
The very fact that he resented being categorized a street photographer hints at what made Winogrand the greatest street shooter of all time. What makes a good street shooter? Being prolific, being willing to get in someone’s space, and being there for the decisive moment. Those three things permeate Winogrand’s best work.
Picking five of my favorite Winogrand images is no easy feat. By the end, the man’s archive would come to include 35,000 prints, 22,000 contact sheets of 800,000 images and 45,000 slides. When he died in 1985 he left behind 2,500 unprocessed rolls of film. But picking five images is sort of a requirement for a feature titled “Five Favorite Photos…” So here goes.
1. “Fort Worth, Texas”
Making impactful photographs is pretty difficult if you’re unwilling to get close to the action. Many of Winogrand’s most famous photos are tight on faces, including this one. Considering that Winogrand almost always shot with a 28mm lens attached to his Leica M2, it’s remarkable just how close he must’ve been to fill the frame. This shot, taken in Fort Worth, shows two very different reactions. While both subjects sport cowboy hats, Cowboy One on the left (where the eye ostensibly goes first) stares at someone off frame while dancing. Cowboy Two wears his hat so low that it’s easy to miss the stare he gives Winogrand. His face shrouded by hat and the hair of his female companion seems to hint at the dangerous side of “don’t mess with Texas.”
Winogrand balanced the intrusiveness of his photography with an endearing personality. Diane Arbus described Winogrand as “so totally without malice, so unflinching, even cheerful.”
2. “Untitled, from ‘Women are Beautiful’ 1969”
I instinctively cringed when I first read the title of a photo collection called “Women are Beautiful.” At the very least I expected stylized fashion photography and worse, white knight Photoshoppers moving curves and erasing blemishes. None of that is found in Winogrand’s collection of photos of women, which could just as well have been titled “Women are Beautiful the Way they Are.” It’s packed cover to cover with photography of average women going about their day-to-day lives. They are mostly candid shots, and in typical Winogrand style the photos’ lack of pretension gives a sort of inverse nobility to the averageness of the subjects.
3. “Apollo 11 Moon Shot, Cape Kennedy, Florida”
So many Winogrand photos seem to be designed to be examples with which to teach the fundamentals. Here, it’s a reminder to turn around and consider the scene behind you. Here every single person in the photo (with one exception) is either looking at or photographing the Apollo 11 launch. This was one of the most important events of the 21st century, and I find myself obsessing over little things, like what that woman was taking a picture of. I love that even though all the other people are looking in one direction, the shadows of those standing focus the eye on the subject.
I thought of this photo during the recent solar eclipse when my coworkers were outside trying to see and take photos of the event. Not particularly interested in photographing the eclipse, I turned and photographed them instead and came away with some funny images they enjoyed later.
4. “Circle Line Statue of Liberty Ferry, New York”
This image is the Inception version of frame within a frame… within a frame. It shows both a mass of people, and only two; a well-dressed couple having what looks like a quiet, intimate moment while surrounded by a crowd. There’s just enough distance between the crowd and the pair to immediately draw the eye. There’s nothing extremely notable about the image, other than documenting what people were like at that place and time. I just think it’s a supremely interesting photo and I like looking at it. Winogrand said that you see life through a viewfinder, and not in photos. As such his photos consistently look like borrowed moments, something captured on film for which his camera was merely a bystander.
5. “Coney Island, New York”
There are three images I show people when I describe real photography (with a capital P), and this is always the first. I look at this photo of beachgoers at Coney Island in 1952 and think it may be the most American photo ever taken. Two people sharing an intimate and playful moment. The way their bodies are captured makes them seem like some sort of monument to middle America. The young boy to their left, who looks like every American kid I’ve ever seen at the beach – is reacting and having fun (quite possibly at someone’s expense). The next line of people harder to discern, and the furthest objects so distant it’s hard to tell what they are. But you always come back to the couple.
Her legs kicking up the water (Winogrand always pushed Tri-X to be able to shoot at 1/1000 of a second) freezing the splash. I don’t want to see their faces – I love that the photo leaves a lot to the imagination. I don’t know these people, even though they feel vaguely familiar. I just know I want to be like them. The photo is selling me on something I didn’t know I wanted to buy. What an American sentiment.
When Mad Men creator Matt Weiner was asked by Time magazine to pick his most influential photo, this was his choice. It doesn’t take a big leap to imagine the person who created the fictional world of Don Draper and his Kodak Carousel ad pitch would find this photo inspiring.
“I do have a particular attraction to the work of Garry Winogrand,” he told Time. “His photographs are filled with stories drawn from real life that reflect his personal curiosity and are the most evocative of the war between self-awareness and voyeurism that I admire in writers as well.”
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