Artist Biography: Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
Garry Winogrand once said, “The only thing that’s difficult is reloading when things are happening." When he died in Mexico in 1984, he left behind three ex-wives, four limited-edition portfolios, his beloved Leica M4, over 2,500 rolls of exposed but undeveloped film, 6,500 developed rolls but no contact sheets for them, and another 3,000 or so rolls in contact-sheet form but never reviewed.
Winogrand had the levity of the greats, the master’s lack of pretension and the curiosity of a child. Born and raised in the Bronx, he enrolled at Columbia University in 1948 but only came into contact with photojournalism a year later, in 1949, when he attended Alexey Brodovitch’s* famous design classes at the New School and, like Friedlander and Arbus, was educated in the designer’s “astonish me” aesthetics. His vision was also deeply influenced by the work of Walker Evans and Robert Frank.
Edward Steichen, the then-director of the MoMA’s Photography Department, included two of his works in the show The Family of Man** and later in Seventy Photographers Look at New York (1957-1958).
The visionary John Szarkowski (a crucial figure in elevating photography from a utilitarian medium for documenting reality to a fine art) brought him into the public eye again, first in Five Unrelated Photographers (1963) and then in The Photographer´s Eye (1964), a show that examined photography as art or as a medium of communication and memory, ultimately concluding that the essence lay in the photographer's eye or vantage point.
Szarkowski’s New Documents show at the MoMA, featuring Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus, shone the spotlight on a new type of photographer whose aims were more personal and intimate, who set out “not to reform life, but to know it”. These were the new documentary photographers.
But prior to New Documents, Nathan Lyons, curator at the George Eastman House in Rochester, had included him in Toward a Social Landscape (1966), which also featured work by Friedlander. Today, that exhibition is regarded as the seed from which New Documents would later sprout.
Winogrand’s fascination with zoos gave rise to The Animals (1969), an ironic exploration of an environment filled with animals in cages observed by human beings who were themselves encaged within the zoo’s grounds. His emblematic image World´s Fair, New York City, 1964, which shows a group of young people chatting on a bench as they observe their surroundings, is from his book Women Are Beautiful (1975).
Fundación MAPFRE owns a portafolio published by Double Elephant Press in 1974
(number 64 of 75 sets) where the artist has chosen to put together some of his iconic images such as World´s Fair, New York City, 1964 o Central Park Zoo, New York City, 1967.
Winogrand was a great investigator. He had no interest in photographs that were familiar to him, preferring to seek out "the others". Legend has it that he would take to the streets every day armed with his Leica, a wide-angle lens and ten rolls of Tri-X. His unique frame (tilted away from the natural horizon) and his command of the wide angle lend a clockwork precision to his photographic compositions, where every element has a meaning and serves a specific purpose. They called him the “Prince of the Streets”. He would go home every day with the city of New York in his pockets.
*Photographer and ground-breaking art director of Harper´s Bazaar for 25 years who gave Winogrand some of his first assignments. He introduced the magazine to Surrealist aesthetics, Abstract Expressionism and ultimately minimalism, as well as a legendary layout style with images bleeding off the page.
**A seminal exhibition featuring 273 photographers and over 503 works that set a new record in audience figures and touring capacity.