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GARRY WINOGRAND discovered photography—or was confronted by it—at a moment in its history when it was particularly susceptible to redefinition (one might say to takeover) by a new generation of primitives. By 1950 most of photography's ambitious young supplicants considered photojournalism to be the arena of conspicuous opportunity. The picture magazines were at the height of their success and confidence, and magazines that had traditionally depended on the written word had come to devote a substantial number of their pages to photo-stories. The greatly expanded market of the postwar years made room for scores of new photojournalists. The previous generation of photojournalists had been photographers before they were journalists, and had generally come to the new field with a fairly broad training in the craft of photography. But at the time of Winogrand's entrance one could make a beginning with little more than energy, confidence, and a distaste for regular working hours. Much of the minimal technical training of these new recruits came neither from schools nor traditional apprenticeship but from the wizards of the camera shops, who knew about cameras and lenses and films and chemicals, if not much about pictures, and from friends who shared on a daily basis the results of what seemed a continuing group experiment. Partly out of this absence of conventional technical competence, partly out of the example of the new Italian movies, with their coarse grain and their expressively ugly gray scale, and partly out of the popular image of the photojournalist as an adventurer and man of action, too much in a hurry to concern himself with refinements, came a new attitude toward conventional ideas of photographic quality. The goal of the new work was not clarity but authenticity. It did not so much describe its subject as allude to it. The new photographers were referred to by unsympathetic observers as the quality-be-damned school, and the epithet was as apt as one-line labels are likely to be; it was aimed at photographers who did not in fact care much about the precise description of surfaces, the elegance of smoothly rendered tonalities, or accepted notions of good design. If their pictures seemed gratuitously casual even by the relatively permissive standards of photojournalism, they also seemed to be lifted directly and spontaneously from the flow of real life; they seemed formed not by rules and calculation, but by intuition and strong feeling.
A chief prophet of the new photography was Alexey Brodovitch. As art director of Harper's Bazaar, Brodovitch used or commissioned much of the best photography of the fifties. As a teacher (in the legendary Brodovitch Workshops, where Winogrand was a scholarship student in 1949) he fired his students with the idea that each of them was unique, and that if they could describe their own perceptions their photographs would be good. His own book of 1945, Ballet, exhibited the same disregard for conventional standards of photographic craft that was later adopted by many of his students. In his own photography and in his teaching he proposed that successful photography was the triumph of intuition over science and design.
The new style was hotly debated; between the younger and older disputants the argument tended to reduce itself to an exchange of slogans about honesty, the older favoring honesty of craft, the younger honesty of feeling. It was an artistic argument in an old tradition, in which the young accuse the old of hard arteries, and the old say that the young cannot draw. By the end of 1952 Jackie Judge, editor of Modern Photography, said, "I think we have almost reached the ridiculous point where it is necessary to speak up for the technicians.... I'm all for knowing how people feel—but I'd also like to know what they look like."
It would not be a gross exaggeration to say that, in the eyes of the young turks, a photograph that was sharp all over, that was fully exposed in the shadows, and that was not visibly grainy was insincere. To add artificial light to the scene was worse, it was simple fraud.
In rational terms this was nonsense, but in artistic terms the question was not so simple. To the new photographers the old pictures seemed planned, designed, conceived, understood in advance: they were little more than illustrations, in fact less, since they claimed to be something else—the exploration of real life.
The new style was also called the available-light revolution, and if one forgives its portentousness the phrase is useful. Photographers had of course always used available light, which during most of the medium's first century was generally daylight. It was not until the twenties that artificial light began to be a standard part of the working photographer's vocabulary, and not until the early thirties that devices were marketed that would synchronize the light of a flashbulb with the operation of a camera's shutter. The possibilities of artificial light had been quickly seized by the picture magazines, whose editors appreciated the new tool not only for its ability to produce pictures where photography would otherwise have been impossible but also for the fact that it could describe a scene with sharply incised detail and a graphic simplicity that made the photograph seem clearer than real life. Artificial light was embraced with special enthusiasm in the United States, particularly by Life magazine, whose example in photojournalistic style was decisive. The more sophisticated users of flash photography quickly developed techniques that utilized several bulbs for a single shot, producing results that were less obviously artificial than those achieved by a single bulb attached to the camera. These pictures approached in their character the immaculately lighted Hollywood movies of the thirties, whose imagery came to be accepted as natural in spite of its uncanny, luxuriant clarity.
European magazines had tended toward a photographic style that favored ambience over clarity of detail—a sense of immediacy over the quantity of information conveyed. After World War II this approach began to gain favor in the United States. In 1946 Life lured the English photographer Leonard McCombe to its staff and stipulated in his contract that he was not to use flashbulbs.4
In 1948 the exhibition French Photography Today, selected by the American photographer Louis Stettner, was shown in New York at the galleries of The Photo League. Although Stettner praised the work, he felt compelled to apologize for its failure to meet American standards of technical finish, but added, 'It must be remembered that most of the photographers in this exhibition consider their work finished when it appears in reproduction form. And they print accordingly.... French photographers have not yet learned what Stieglitz first taught us: that a print can exist as a thing in itself." Beaumont Newhall noted that "admiration for the images was qualified by frequent puzzlement by visitors at the photographic quality of the work. How, they asked, could the League show prints so poor in quality?" But the prints that survive from that time by the photographers included in the show (among them Boubat, Brassaii, Doisneau, and Ronnis) today seem technically unexceptionable. In comparison to what would soon follow they seem in their craft models of conventional virtue.
The spirit of what was to come was presaged by a statement that Doisneau had written on the back of one of his prints in the Photo League show: "The photographer must be absorbent—like a blotter, allow himself to be permeated by the poetic moment.... His technique should be like an animal function... he should act automatically."7 The new photographers who emerged in the next years followed Doisneau's advice with an abandon that he could not have envisioned.
By 1952 the new purism had been ratified (it seemed) by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who in his introduction to The Decisive Moment proscribed the use of flashbulbs, "out of respect for the actual light—even when there isn't any of it."8 On the basis of his own work, one might guess that Cartier-Bresson meant by this that if there was not adequate light one might go to dinner. The new photographers kept photographing with what to the casual observer might seem to have been no light at all, and on occasion made a coherent picture in terms of nothing but a pattern of glittering highlights—smeary white shapes against a black field. Although the picture might bear little resemblance to what an eyewitness might have remembered, it had about it a quality that one could at the time call honesty, perhaps because it was clearly different from the familiar varieties of artifice.
One of the consequences of the available-light morality was that its adherents were forced to work in graphic rather than tactile terms if the meaning of their pictures was to be clear. One could describe a head with a few broad tones of gray, but one could not with the same technique describe a crowd. The available-light photographer moved in closer and included less in the frame; the best of his pictures came to resemble posters. The new style sacrificed all other virtues to the virtue of simplicity. It was a style nurtured by the magazines, designed to produce pictures that would convey meaning at a glance. Eventually it produced pictures whose meaning seemed exhausted at a glance.
It would be incorrect to suggest that the new philosophy carried the day. Tb most photographers it was less a philosophic question than a matter of fashion, or a political position that served the ambitions of younger photographers who were working with limited skills and limited machinery. Most of these hungry young photographers were not wedded to the available-light idea, or to any other catechism that might restrict their freedom of movement. But for a moment the permissive new atmosphere made room for changes that went beyond fashion.
IN 1948, AFTER HIGH SCHOOL and two years in the army, Garry Winogrand was in a desultory way studying painting at Columbia University when he met George Zimbel, a student and a photographer for the Columbia Spectator. Zimbel introduced Winogrand to the darkroom in the basement of the architecture building, which was open twenty-four hours a day. It was Winogrand's first exposure to the process of photography, and the simple magic of it captivated him completely. Within two weeks he had abandoned painting. "I never looked back," he said later.
Once he began to devote all of his energy to photography he could no longer pose as a student and enjoy the financial support of the GI Bill, but he did continue for some time to use the Columbia darkroom, forming with his friend Zimbel the Midnight-to-Dawn Club, which had full use of the place while more normal sorts slept. For a year or two he experimented with various cameras—a Graphlex, a Rolleicord, a Kodak 35—but soon most of his work was being done with the Leica. When flush, he bought surplus film in bulk at $1.49 for one hundred feet (approximately 700 exposures) and ten-by-ten-inch paper, designed for aerial photography, which cut in two would yield two five-by-seven-inch prints. When necessary he would cadge paper and chemicals from his friends. He lived with his parents in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, and presumably received some walking-around money from his father Abraham, a leather worker, or his mother Bertha, who made neckties on a piecework basis. During the fiist years photography brought him no income, and it can only be guessed that he lived by those unrecorded strategies known intuitively to indigent but ambitious youth.
It is not difficult to imagine the young Winogrand as a kind of city hick—an undisciplined mixture of energy, ego, curiosity, ignorance, and street-smart naiveté. Bob Schwalberg, a friend from the early days, said, "He was a wild man from the beginning," and added, '^Everybody knew from the start that there was something special about Garry, but it was hard to know what. He was always a little more private than the rest of us."9 Winogrand told Tbd Papageorge that at the age often or twelve he walked the streets of the Bronx until late at night, seeking refuge from the apartment where his parents "did not put a high priority on privacy" and where one could be alone only in the bathroom.10
Late in 1951 Winogrand, was taken on as a stringer for the Fix agency, where his friend Zimbel was already working and where he met Schwalberg and Ed Feingersh, one of the brightest young stars of the new style. The position of stringer allowed a photographer to use the agency darkroom and the photographers' office, where he could share jokes and technical data, play cards, and borrow materials from the solvent regulars. In theory stringers might get occasional assignments; in practice they generally were self-assigned, shooting what interested them or what they thought might sell. The agency, at its discretion, might show their work to prospective clients.
In January 1952 Winogrand married nineteen-year-old Adrienne Lubow, whom he had courted with characteristic vigor and artlessness since they had met three years earlier. The marriage was a success only in terms of the children it produced, Laurie (1956) and Ethan (1958). It soon became clear to Adrienne that Winogrand was egocentric, overbearing, demanding, and (except to the children) insensitive. It seemed reasonable to Winogrand that his wife should work in order to allow him some freedom in pursuing his ambitions as a photographer. She, scarcely out of childhood, wanted to be a dancer, and considered her ambitions as valid as his. The marriage was interrupted by lengthy separations, which, except for the last, would end when, clean-shaven and wearing a coat and tie, Winogrand would promise again to be what he could not be. In Adrienne's later judgment, it was an astrological problem; her husband had been overly influenced by the active, creative, and expressive planets—Mars, Neptune, and Mercury.
By 1954 Feingersh had recommended Winogrand to the photographers' representative Henrietta Brackman, doubtless out of genuine conviction and perhaps also to reduce the drain on his own supply of film, paper, and small bills. He told Brackman that Winogrand was making "about eighty-nine cents a week" at Pix. If this was intended as hyperbole, it may have missed the mark.
Winogrand later remembered that one year he had made sixty dollars at Fix, although it is unlikely that he ever knew, to the end of his life, how much money passed through his hands in a year. For his interview with Brackman, Winogrand arrived with three or four piles of prints that reached from floor to desk top. Brackman recorded her sense of him in her notes as a person of "strong inner drive—has own style and character." Brackman had previously represented only three photographers: Guy Gillette, John Lewis Stage, and Dan Weiner (1919-1959). Weiner was one of the exceptional young photographers of the day, and was in addition a man of some cultivation and comity, who did not feel uncomfortable in a suit. Winogrand, perhaps surprised that these seemingly antithetical attributes could exist in a single person, admired Weiner and perhaps held him a little in awe. The general tone of Brackman's group was a good deal more civilized than that at Fix. "We were generally reprobates at Fix," said Zimbel, who credits Brackman with making Winogrand palatable to the magazine world.13
During the mid-fifties Winogrand's pictures were published by Collier's, Argosy, Pageant, Redbook, Men, Gentry, Climax, and, in its first years, Sports Illustrated. For the most part he worked the same shallow veins of human interest and social uplift that his colleagues worked, and much of the time he made pictures not clearly distinguishable from those of other photographers of his generation. He did stories on "Whitey the Goat and Her Kids," on "The Ministers Unacceptable Family," on clochards at the boardwalk, on the life of an apprentice prizefighter, on "Cat Meets Dog." The best stories were those that had no story line, on entertainers, parades, expensive saloons, or athletic contests, where the photographer could forget narrative and concentrate on movement, flesh, gesture, display, and human faces. Years later he said (with characteristic disregard for tact and exactitude) that a photojournalist had to be able to make only two pictures: the big head shot and the middle-distance picture of a lone figure walking down the beach. He meant that he had lost interest in the magazines, and that the magazines had lost interest in what he meant by photography. But the best of his early work as a journalist describes a world that is full of visceral energy and a smoldering beauty that lies close to violence.
In the mid-fifties Winogrand's work was still formed wholly by his own intuitive response to work in the magazines, plus the judgments of a little group of colleagues. He was ignorant of the history of photography and the history of much else. The process of his work was exciting and kept him moving, and he got paid for it, a fact that never quite ceased to surprise him. Photography was a kind of magic for which he had a taste and a talent, as another man might for chess. It is not clear that he ever then considered the question of whether it was useful. A quarter-century later he still avoided answering it.
Late in 1955 Winogrand, with Adrienne, made his first independent excursion across the country, because of a vague sense that "there were pictures to be made out there." When Weiner learned of the plan he showed Winogrand his copy of American Photographs, by Walker Evans, a name with which Winogrand was not familiar. Winogrand explained much later that, "For the ASMP [American Society of Magazine Photographers] Walker Evans did not exist." He remembered the experience of the book as the first time that he had been moved by photographs—not as in moved to tears, but moved to understanding. For the first time he realized that photography could deal with the fact of intelligence. He advertised for the book—then out of print—and for the first time in his life paid fifteen dollars for a book. The trip west produced surprisingly few photographs. Even in those days Winogrand was a heavy shooter, and it is difficult to believe that in almost four months of traveling he shot only the thirty-five rolls or so that seem to survive in his files. Many years later he remembered that he had had technical failures; he was perhaps also a little disarmed by a country that looked so little like the one he knew, and so much like photographs by Walker Evans.
In the same year Robert Frank began the cross-country trip that produced the pictures for his enormously influential book The Americans. Winogrand did not know Frank or his work, but both had been deeply impressed by Evans. In 1955 Frank was a mature and sophisticated artist ready to produce his best work; Winogrand was still a raw talent, only beginning to wonder what a photograph might be. In the thousands of miles that they traveled they did once stop at the same motif.
Winogrand told Tod Papageorge in 1977 that he had begun to be a serious photographer about 1960. Years later Schwalberg remembered "the years around 1960" as a period of personal failure for Winogrand.14 It is not difficult to find good reasons. In professional terms the fat years for photojournalists were ending. Collier's, perhaps the most profitable of Winogrand's customers, had folded in 1957, and in the following years other buyers followed its example or reduced their dependence on photo-stories, which now seemed, with the success of television, something of an anachronism. In 1958 Feingersh, the most talented of Winogrand's close friends among the young photographic radicals, died from alcohol and self-neglect, and perhaps from a failure of confidence in his own genius.
Winogrand spoke of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 as a crucial episode in his life. During the days and nights when the issue remained in doubt he walked the streets, in despair out of fear for the life of his family and himself and his city, and from his own impotence to affect the outcome. Finally it came to him that he was nothing—powerless, insignificant, helpless—and that knowledge, he said, liberated him. He was nothing, so he was free to lead his own life. It is at this point that Winogrand's political activities ceased. His earlier involvement with the Young Democratic Club and the American Society of Magazine Photographers was dropped.15 For the rest of his life he apparently belonged to no organizations, and he declined to vote.
In 1962 Winogrand was also facing the dissolution of his marriage. To all appearances he was a comfortably secularized Jew and an unquestioning agnostic—a man not quite interested enough in the issue to be a convinced atheist. Nevertheless, the important ethical strictures had retained much of their force. Winogrand told Papageorge that in his family, divorce was not a recognized option, and it had not been for him, until the failure of his marriage could no longer be denied. Winogrand and Adrienne separated for the last time in 1963, but their divorce did not become final until 1966. Both the loss of his wife and the loss of his marriage were profound defeats for Winogrand. Perhaps, like the missile crisis, they were also liberating.
About 1960 Winogrand had begun to photograph women on the street. The subject remained a major preoccupation for several years until about 1965, when he met his second wife, and it recurred like malaria throughout the rest of his life, possibly as an index of his loneliness, and of his inability either to escape or to satisfy a lust that seemed not, in the contemporary mode, the desire for a rollicking, trouble-free sex life, but some more atavistic need, in which women represented neither pleasure nor companionship, but magic power.
Winogrand's view of women was perhaps outrageous, or was perhaps saved from outrageousness by its simplicity and openness, and by its reckless enthusiasm. If he loved the idea of women for wrong or insufficient reasons, he nevertheless loved it without reservation or imposture, and without being embarrassed by the fact that his appreciation of women as a principle seemed to many of his friends a little ludicrous.
Winogrand repeatedly told the story of a great day in his early teens, when he and several classmates had somehow secured jobs as supernumeraries with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The ballet in question was the Gaite Parisienne, and Winogrand, with false beard and sideburns, sat on stage in the bandstand, pretending to play a toy cornet. "All that flesh! I couldn't believe it.... My face was buried in thighs. I think I never got over that."16
However problematic Winogrand's view of women may have been, the best pictures that he made in celebration of that view were original and compelling, possessed by a vitality and a psychological urgency that is ultimately due less to the subjects than to the pictures: to the electric character of their drawing, and the provisional, almost kinetic nature of their pictorial structure.
A collection of Winogrand's pictures of women in public places, mostly made during the decade of the sixties, was published in 1975 as Women Are Beautiful. Winogrand's own appreciation of women was enthusiastic and undemanding, and he naively assumed that the rest of the world, at least the rest of the male world, would be eager to buy a book of photographs of anonymous, fully-dressed women walking down the street. His expectations of commercial success were disappointed. In general, women disliked the book and men were mystified by it, demonstrating that an artist's enthusiasms can muddle even the most basic of issues. Most photographers and critics found the pictures uneven in quality and the book somehow shapeless as a whole. In retrospect Winogrand considered it the weakest of his books, flawed by permissive editing (his own). He prided himself on his resistance to rhetoric ("In general, I'm not easy to jive"), but he finally admitted that women impaired his critical faculties. He was an easy mark for the rhetoric of women's bodies.
Although the book was not a complete success—perhaps because it was not a complete success—Winogrand remained deeply interested in it, and spoke, possibly in jest, of a sequel, which he threatened to call "Son of Women Are Beautiiul." It was typical of him that he was most interested in those parts of his work that were the most problematic. He had a special affection for those of his pictures that were almost out of control, the pictures in which the triumph of form over chaos was precarious. He believed that a successful photograph must be more interesting than the thing photographed, but he photographed nothing that did not interest him as a fact of life. Success—the vitality and energy of the best pictures—came from the contention between the anarchic claims of life and the will to form.
During periods of separation from his wife, Winogrand spent much of his time with his children at the Central Park Zoo, which was lively, convenient, and free. In 1962 Winogrand, in reviewing his proof sheets, discovered that some of the pictures that he had made on these outings were more than family souvenirs, and he began to visit the city's zoos alone, to discover what the subject might mean to him. Zoos had been favorite subjects for photographers—especially amateur photographers—for a generation, the subject matter being universally interesting, easy of access, and well lighted, and it was a rare photography magazine that did not include pictures of polar bears floating on their backs, or lions looking regal, or pandas quizzical. As a rule these pictures were made from vantage points that avoided reference to the bars of the cages, or the human visitors and keepers—to the facts of life of zoos—and gave us informal portraits of the animals at home, so to speak. In Winogrand's zoo, on the other hand, the animals, are not more important than the humans, and are in fact united with them in a peculiar kind of symbiosis. Winogrand's zoo is a kind of theater, in which humans and the lower vertebrates act out in parable the comic drama of modern urban life.
Forty-six of the best of the zoo pictures were published in 1969 as The Animals. (The title was Winogrand's. He was certain of its lightness, although he could not or would not say why, and he firmly rejected all alternative titles suggested by the publisher, including " Winogrand's Zoo.") The planning of the book was based on the hope that a small, inexpensive, well-produced book of advanced photography dealing with a popular subject might attract broad interest. The book was printed in gravure in an edition of 30,000 copies, to sell at $2.50, and was a resounding commercial failure, the last copies finally being remaindered years later. Those who loved zoos were perhaps distressed by the book's irreverent dark humor, which saw the animals as no more clearly noble than their human visitors. Those who were uninterested in zoos did not notice the book. The photographic press generally ignored it, perhaps misled by the fact that it was thin and inexpensive. Nevertheless, for coherence of style and meaning, for its achievement of simplicity in bedlam, The Animals seems to me the most fully successful of the four remarkable books of Winogrand's work published during his lifetime.
Winogrand said that he had begun to be a serious photographer about 1960, but like many of his grudging, elliptical remarks on his own work, this appraisal should not be accepted uncritically. From the beginning, Winogrand's best work had a powerful and distinctive authority. The nervous, manic, nearly chaotic quality of these frames was an appropriate formulation of a sense of life that was balanced somewhere between animal high spirits and an apprehension of moral disaster. Even if one granted that the form and content of a picture—a good picture or a bad one—could be separated, it would be difficult to imagine how the best half-dozen pictures of Winogrand's 1955 nightclub series could have been better formed in terms of their meaning. But if a time machine could have brought those scenes and actors back to Winogrand a decade later he would have made different pictures. The people in the earlier pictures—free agents with their own agendas, improvising their own one-liners—would have become players in a more complex drama, serving roles within a larger design of which they are unaware.
Winogrand might have meant that about 1960 he began to recognize, and to realize consciously in photographic terms, his own sense of life. He steadfastly refused to discuss the question in philosophical terms, and would instead steer the question to technical grounds, perhaps to discuss his gradual mastery of the wide-angle lens, which was not precisely irrelevant, but rather an impersonal (and therefore permissible) way of speaking about a kind of picture that described more from closer, producing a splayed perspective and an eccentric drawing that (like a polar map) challenged our familiar sense of the proper relationship of things.
IN THE STREET PICTURES of the early sixties Winogrand began to develop two pictorial strategies that he found suggested in certain pictures in Frank's The Americans. The first of these related to unexplored possibilities of the wide-angle lens on the hand camera. The conventional conception of the wide-angle lens saw it as a tool that included more of the potential subject from a given vantage point; most photographers would not use it unless their backs were literally against the wall. Winogrand learned to use it as a way of including what he wanted from a closer vantage point, from which he could photograph an entire pedestrian (for example) from a distance at which we normally focus only on faces. From this intimate distance the shoes of the subject are seen from above, its face straight-on, or even a little from below, and the whole of the figure is drawn with an unfamiliar, unsettling complexity.
Tb pursue such a strategy while photographing people on the street means that the camera back is never vertical, as prescribed by classic procedure; if the figure fills the frame the lens will be pointed at the subject's navel, and the camera back will be inclined some forty-five degrees downward from vertical. In this posture any lens will violate our belief that we should see the walls of buildings as parallel to each other, but the wide-angle lens, because of its broader cone of vision, will exaggerate the effect, and destroy all sense of architectural order. Tb retrieve a kind of stability Winogrand experimented with tilting the frame, making a vertical near the left edge of his subject square with the frame, and then a vertical near the right edge, or a dominant vertical anywhere between. In the process he discovered that he could compose his pictures with a freedom that he had not utilized before, and that the tilted frame could not only maintain a kind of discipline over the flamboyant tendencies of the wide-angle lens
but could also intensify his intuited sense of his picture's meanings. In Radio City, 1961 (page 25), the photograph does not prove that the young man on the left has noticed the young woman on the right, or even that he has the power of sight, but in the picture he is falling toward her with vertiginous helplessness, beyond the pull of gravity or reason.
It should be pointed out that Winogrand scorned technical effects, including wide-angle effects, and that he abandoned his attempts to use the extremely wide-angle 21mm lens because he could not control or conceal its attention-getting mannerisms. He said (repeatedly) that there was no special way that a photograph should look, and he could not abide a lens that made photographs look a special way.
Years later, when students (at lecture after lecture) asked him why he tilted the frame, it would give him pleasure to deny that it was tilted, meaning perhaps that the finished print was always hung square to the wall, or reproduced square to the page. He also said that the tilt was never arbitrary, that there was always a reason, which is true if one counts intuitive experiment as a reason. Sometimes he said that it was, on occasion, simply a way of including what he wanted within the frame, but his proof sheets make it clear that he would often tilt first one way and then the other, trying to find the configuration of facts that would best express the force of the energies that were his subject. Sometimes he suggested elliptically that he tilted the frame to make the picture square and secure.
Winogrand was uninterested in making pictures that he knew would succeed, and one might guess that in the last twenty years of his life, excepting his commercial work, he never made an exposure that he was confident would satisfy him. The most widely quoted summation of his. position is surely his remark that he photographed in order to see what the things that interested him looked like as photographs. Like many of Winogrand's epigrams, this one seemed designed to infuriate the guardians of conventional photographic wisdom. On the surface it would seem to mean precisely the opposite of what Edward Weston meant when he said he wished to previsualize his finished print in every detail and tonality before he released the shutter. It should be noted however that Winogrand's remark defines a motive and Weston's a goal. It should also be understood that Weston defines a goal which, once attained, would be useless. An artist of Weston's restless, vaulting ambition could not have kept himself amused by manufacturing perfect replicas of pictures that were already perfectly finished in his head, and that could not reward him with surprise, or the thrill of success after doubt. Weston's statement and Winogrand's express a shared fascination, central to the work of each, in the difference between photographs and the world they describe, and in the possibility that the former may nevertheless, if good enough, tell us something important about the latter. It is of course true that Weston could not have tolerated the
condition of perpetual contingency that was the circumstance central to Winogrand's work, nor could Winogrand have hoped to previsualize a subject that interested him only if it was in the process of becoming something else. The motif was in principle inexhaustible as long as his attention held, so he would keep shooting and moving, revising the framing and the vantage point, and re-editing the component parts of his subject matter, hoping for an instant of stasis—a resolution so gently provisional that it would scarcely seem to halt the efflorescence of change.
Winogrand said that if he saw a familiar picture in his view-finder he "would do something to change it"—something that would give him an unsolved problem. He would step back or change to a shorter lens, which gave him more facts to organize, and changed the meaning of the facts by changing the character of their setting. Winogrand had been consciously interested in the question of viewing distance at least since the mid-sixties, by which time he understood that closer is merely easier, not necessarily better. How small in relation to the total field can the most important part of the subject be and still be clearly described? Or, more precisely, how is the meaning of the most important part of the subject affected by everything else within the frame? One of his most compelling pictures, Near Carmel, of 1964, shows what we assume to be a young matron approaching her 1958 Chevrolet, which is parked in the open garage of her moderately prosperous suburban house. The picture is made in the bright sunlight of a summer day, from a considerable distance—perhaps from a car parked across the street from the subject—and shows us the whole of the house and most of the driveway. The information given provides no substantial reason for us to wonder what adventure calls the woman from the cool security of her house, but we do wonder, perhaps because of the information withheld by distance. The picture puts us in the position of the private detective, ready to see significance at the very threshold of visibility.
The general course of change in Winogrand's ideas about photographic form can be seen in two football pictures, the first made in 1953 at a game between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns, the second twenty years later in Texas. The first is simple both in graphics and content, and concentrates the game to its most basic confrontation—ball-carrier and tackier. The description is broad and impressionistic, and the picture could be reproduced on a commemorative coin, with the inscription: Browns 7, Giants 0. The later picture may be the only football picture made from the sidelines in which all twenty-two players are visible. The style of description is literal and encyclopedic; the subject of the picture is not the drama of heroic confrontation but the excitement of chaotic violence. The meaning of the first picture seems perfectly clear; the second simplifies nothing but achieves nevertheless an ordered pattern of fact that we had not seen before. It was of course a matter of luck. That is to say, Winogrand could not order the pattern into existence, or stop the twenty-five bodies
(counting officials) in mid-flight to seek a better vantage point, or wait for a better light; nor could he even see, except in terms of general massing, the picture he was making, perhaps one of three made during the same play, while he was presumably giving some attention to the possibility of being hit at high speed by a half-ton of muscular young athletes. The picture was a matter of luck, meaning that one hundred other exposures attempting the same general idea—the idea of a picture that would seem to shake in its frame—might be failures, and show not the essence of chaos but merely chaos. Most of Winogrand's best pictures—let us say all of his best pictures—involve luck of a different order than that kind of minimal, survivor's luck on which any human achievement depends. It is luck of an order that can perhaps be compared to the luck of an athlete, for whom the game is devised to make failure the rule and conspicuous success never wholly in the hands of the hero. The great Henry Aaron hit a home run 755 times in his career, but failed to do so almost 12,000 times.
As Winogrand grew older and his ambition grew more demanding, the role of luck in his work grew larger. As his motifs became more complex, and more unpredictable in their development, the chances of success in a given frame became smaller. A SHORT GENERATION after the picture magazines had begun, their high promise had faded. By the early sixties they no longer seemed to most photographers a likely source of either artistic or financial support. For the latter, Winogrand, like many other photographers who had considered themselves journalists, turned to advertising. It was a field for which he was conspicuously ill-suited by temperament and training, and it is a tribute to the force of his personality and his powers of persuasion that he was given advertising assignments, and for perhaps a decade made the better part of his living from advertising, in spite of being technically unprepared and fundamentally uninterested. He did not, of course, receive the high-paying assignments, which would have required a studio and a staff and some genuine interest; but on the fringes of the industry he hustled enough jobs to support himself and his real work. If he knew that his advertising pictures were —at best—second-rate, he did not admit it to others. It was his position that advertising photography was a simple question of craft, something that any intelligent professional could manage, and that all such photographs were in some perversely Jeffersonian sense equal.
Winogrand and his second wife, Judy Teller, had met in the offices of Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, where she was an advertising copywriter. Her encouragement and perhaps her influence may have helped sustain his work in advertising, but by the time of their separation in 1969, after two years of marriage, he had lost whatever interest he might once have had in that work. He had lost interest in journalism also. He later recalled 1969 as the year when he had stopped being "a hired gun, more or less.... I enjoyed it until I stopped.... I just didn't want to do it anymore.'18
If Winogrand consciously gave up commercial assignments in 1969, he had much earlier come to devote his best energies to his personal work, for which there was only occasionally and incidentally a market. After about 1960 the work for which he is known was done for himself, generally without any clear idea of where, or if, a broader audience might exist. For Winogrand, as perhaps for most ambitious photographers of this century, the essential, supportive audience was often small enough to gather around a cafe table.
As early as the late fifties he had begun to seek ways outside the magazines to make his work visible. In 1959 and again in 1960 his work was shown in New York galleries. In 1963, in his first substantial museum showing, forty-five of his pictures were included in the exhibition Five Unrelated Photographers, at The Museum of Modern Art (with Ken Heyman, George Krause, Jerome Liebling, and Minor White). In the same year he first applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he was granted the following spring. The fellowship allowed him a year, more or less, in which to travel and photograph, free of commercial pressures for the first time in his career.
Pictures from the Guggenheim year constituted most of Winogrand's representation in the 1967 Museum of Modern Art exhibition New Documents, which also showed the work of Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. The exhibition received considerable attention; in Winogrand's case much of it was directed to what seemed from a traditional perspective the casualness, the formal slackness, of his new pictures. The best of these were more complex, and less immediately forceful, than the earlier street pictures, or those from the zoo, and might be regarded as the expression of a final break with standards of picture construction that could be discussed in terms of the idea of composition—a felicitous disposition of parts—or the idea of good design, which suggests an underlying graphic armature to which the information of the picture is fastened. The new Winogrand pictures proposed a standard of construction in which the appearance of the photograph is the unmediated result of the point of view, framing, and moment that best describes the photographer's definition of his subject. He had said, "There is no special way that a photograph should look." His own looked the way they did because his definition of the subject was unfamiliar and unsettling, and subversive of categorical assumptions.
The term "snapshot aesthetic" was coined to give a name to the open-ended character of this imagery, so different from the familiar ideal of good pictorial design, with its taut assemblage of interlocking shapes. Winogrand thought the label idiotic, and pointed out correctly that the prototypical snapshot was—at least m intention—rigidly conceptual, even totemic. At a deeper level, however, there was perhaps some justice to the term, for the snapshooter and Winogrand agreed that the subject was everything. The difference between them was that the snapshooter thought he knew what the subject was in advance, and for Winogrand, photography was the process of discovering it.
In the late sixties, as interest in Winogrand's personal work began to grow, he began to be asked to teach—at first as a visiting professional who would spend a little time at New York art schools, in which it was generally assumed that teachers of art transmitted to others the skills and knowledge necessary to perform as artists, or at least as technicians in the world of art. By the early seventies Winogrand was beginning to be courted as a minor cult figure by the art departments of American universities, whose perspective was substantially different: to them an artist was not an expert who might share his craft secrets, but a cultural philosopher and therapist. By 1971, when he accepted a full-time (though temporary) teaching position at Chicago's Institute of Design, he was expected to explain his work in public. His explanations were in the beginning elliptical and evasive, even though the evasions were often camouflaged by wit. At one Winogrand slide show a distinguished curator, distressed by what seemed to him the unconsidered casualness of the pictures—by the absence of that careful construction and elegant finish that identify the best photography of the high modernist period—finally asked from the back of the darkened room, "How long did it take you to make that picture, Mr. Winogrand?" Winogrand turned to the screen, pretended to consider the question, and then replied, "I think it was a hundred and twenty-fifth of a second."
Winogrand did not quite trust either the motives or the competence of art schools, and perhaps did not altogether trust himself for accepting their support for no better reason than that he needed it. In compensation he went out of his way to make it clear to his students that the venture was a bad risk: that in the unlikely case that some of them had the talent and will to be photographers they would be better off working on their own, that they should expect little from him except honesty, a dubious favor. Predictably, his refusal to interest himself in, or to feign interest in, the sensibilities and ambitions of his students (as opposed to their work) made him a kind of hero to them; they had plenty of teachers who treated them kindly.
Late in his life, when his confidence as a teacher had grown more secure, and as he was less in need of the modest fees supplied by workshops and one-night stands of show-and-tell, his style at the lectern became more relaxed; his answers to naive questions were less curt and combative, and were on occasion generous and open, within the limits of his fierce pride. But to the end of his life he could be coldly contemptuous of the student who would not distinguish the art from the artist:
Q: Why do you make art?
A: It's a way of living. It's a way of passing through the time.
Q: Then I can't really take your images seriously.
A: Look, so you like a lot of rhetoric. All there is is the pictures. I'm irrelevant to the pictures. You have a lot to learn, young man. The artist is irrelevant once the work exists
As Winogrand became better known, he was forced to try to explain in words matters that he knew could not be explained at all, but that might with luck be demonstrated in pictures. His comments on photography are sometimes brilliant, often rich in witty synecdoche, almost always challenging. They are also filled with contradiction, and ultimately frustrating. He did his best, most of the time, to answer truthfully unanswerable questions: What made a picture good? What did his pictures mean? Were his intentions honorable? But he knew that his answers, even the best, most epigrammatic of them, were not true but merely art— like a photograph, a piece of the truth seen from one vantage point, with edges that excluded most of the data. So he would undermine one epigram with another, delivered with the same Old Testament certainty, but not quite consistent with the first. His method with words was perhaps consonant with his method with the camera: if he thought he had a chance for a picture he would "bang away at it," and leave the editing for later. In speech he seemed to pursue the same policy: if he sensed the chance for a principle, a bon mot, a formulation, a joke, he would try for it, and then try again, confident that he still had other chances—still plenty of frames on the roll.
IN 1969 WINOGRAND received his second Guggenheim Fellowship, to photograph "the effect of the media on events." It is not clear whether he thought in the beginning that he could do quite that, or whether he meant to say that he would photograph events
that had been profoundly affected by the presence of the press, events that had been conceived and organized with the understanding that the press was an essential participant, and that often would not have taken place in any form if it was understood that the press would not notice. Twenty years as a journalist had persuaded Winogrand that all scheduled events were designed to be reported, and that it would be more rewarding to photograph them from the vantage point of that persuasion than to make photographs designed to suggest that the photographer was the chance witness of a spontaneous happening.
Some of the many superb pictures that Winogrand made on this most ambitious of his projects can indeed be read as documents that illustrate the thesis that most news is made news. But a lesser photographer, with eyes focused sharply on the theory rather than on the nutty carnival of the event, might have succeeded better in illustrating the point. Winogrand, inevitably, was drawn to the dramas that were not in the script, to the spontaneous improvisations, the unforeseen contingencies, the minor individual crises that demonstrate—to our relief—that the plan was comically inadequate, and that the event was after all a real event, even if not the one advertised.
The project, which later came to be known as Public Relations, had begun well before the Guggenheim year, and continued long afterward. Between 1969 and 1976, Winogrand shot some 700 rolls of film at public and semipublic events, and made 6,500 eleven-by-fourteen-inch proof prints, from which Tod Papageorge (with some guidance and very rare exercise of authority by Winogrand) selected the contents of the exhibition and the accompanying book.
In sustained visual vitality and in Chaucerian richness of incident, this prodigious collection seems beyond the scope of a single photographer. It is unlikely that an anthology of the best photographs by all the other photographers who made pictures bearing on the character of America's public behavior during that period would provide so lively and telling a document. And Winogrand gave us in addition the integrity of art—coherent sensibility and style.
The photographer and critic Gerry Badger found the Public Relations pictures "works of virtuosity—indeed, they perhaps would rank as amongst the most formally adroit 35mm photographs ever made," but was more deeply interested in the way that the photographer had made, from materials long weighted down with conventional moral significance, the disinterested, private political statement that life is more interesting than the theories that purport to explain it.
Not all reviewers were persuaded. Michael Edelson thought that he had seen better pictures in the reject box at the Associated Press 22 Shelley Rice said that Winogrand "settled for a half-baked series of images that express only the most hackneyed and superficial truisms about a very complex issue."23 A. D. Coleman found the pictures basically indistinguishable from each other, and Winogrand a photographer whose "professional and economic allegiance is to the upper class; he's received an enormous amount of support from the corporate/government sector and the museum/gallery network which is its right arm. He cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds him."24
Winogrand was seldom visibly upset by the comments of photography critics, whose response to his work was frequently puerile and occasionally vicious. He was not responsible, he said, for the babblings of children. Only once did he seem genuinely disappointed by published criticism. Ironically, the piece in question, an omnibus review in 1975 by Janet Malcolm,25 was not inhospitable to Winogrand's work, although she did associate it loosely with the word snapshot, a confusion that he deplored. Untypically, he responded (eight months later) and accused Malcolm of unprofessionalism, as though he could summon up no more damning epithet. He also refused to allow reproduction of his pictures in the book of her collected essays on photography.
It might be noted that 1975 was a bad year for Winogrand: in March he stopped smoking and quickly gained fifty pounds, apparently much of it around his neck, which proved to be the evidence of a thyroid condition that required an operation during the summer; in November, back on his feet, and photographing on the sidelines of the Texas vs. Texas A & M football game, he was overrun by three players. A leg was broken and a kneecap shattered. His recovery was long and painful, and (worst of all) required a degree of inactivity for which his prior experience had not prepared him.
TO LIST IN SEQUENCE the conventionally significant events of Winogrand's life is to construct what seems on paper a chronology of troubles and failures, punctuated occasionally by underappreciated successes. Those who knew him will be puzzled by the contradiction between the bald facts and their memory of the man as one who overflowed with vitality and ebullient good humor, who seemed constantly hurrying forward to meet each of life's double-edged surprises, who in spite of his own experience never tired of praising marriage and family life, the virtues of hard work, dependability, professionalism. It is also true that when still a child in grade school he walked the streets of the Bronx late at night in order to be alone, and that he suffered from duodenal ulcers when he was seventeen.
In his 1963 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship, Winogrand's brief statement of plans reveals, calmly and with chilling frankness, the profound pessimism with which he viewed the world and the potential efficacy of his own work: "I look at the pictures I have done up to now, and they make me feel that who we are and what we feel and what is to become of us just doesn't matter. Our aspirations and successes have been cheap and petty. I read the newspapers, the columnists, some books, I look at the magazines (our press). They all deal in illusions and fantasies. I can only conclude that we have lost ourselves, and that the bomb may finish the job permanently, and it just doesn't matter, we have not loved life.
"I cannot accept my conclusions, and so I must continue this photographic investigation further and deeper. This is my project."
One might explain the contradiction between the sanguine and the melancholic Winogrands by assuming that either the pessimism or the optimism was a pose—the first, perhaps, a way of refusing to deal with hard problems, or the second a way of protecting his friends and his children from the truth. Or one could posit that the optimist and the pessimist were both real, and that they held hegemony over different spheres of his life—the optimist in charge of his active life and the pessimist of meditation. By remaining almost perpetually active, and by almost never committing his private thoughts to writing, Winogrand kept the optimist dominant, except for momentary lapses. A year before his death an interviewer for a German television program asked
Winogrand why he photographed: "How do I say it? The way I would put it is that I get totally out of myself. It's the closest I come to not existing, I think, which is the best—which to me is attractive."
Nevertheless, Winogrand believed (or claimed) that he was lucky, that he had been lucky to find photography, without which he could have become a junkie or a criminal or a bum: "I never even decided to be a photographer. I fell into it in a way, but when I fell into it I grabbed at it. Obviously, to me, I needed it desperately, and nothing has ever diverted me from that." Winogrand said repeatedly that he had enjoyed whatever work he had done, for as long as he had been willing to do it.
Winogrand and Judy Teller were separated in 1969, and their marriage was annulled the next year. Late in 1969 he had met Eileen Adele Hale; they married in 1972, and in the following year moved to Austin when Winogrand joined the faculty of the University of Texas.
Winogrand said that he went to Texas because the place interested him; he felt there were pictures for him to make there. Earlier, as a visitor, he had made some of his most memorable photographs in Texas, and it seemed that that place, with (we have been led to believe) its public, extroverted style and love of display, would have been perfect material for him. But what we thought we had reason to expect did not happen. Winogrand shot thousands of rolls during his Texas years, but most of the best of it was shot not in Texas but in New York, or Washington, or at Cape Canaveral, or in airports, while waiting for a plane that would take him somewhere else. An exception must be made of the work in Stock Photographs, the book that grew out of a commission by the Fort Worth Art Museum to photograph the city's Fat Stock Show and Rodeo. The best of this work is extraordinary, and suggests a photographer whose concentration was fully intact, but it was shot during a period of a few days, during several visits between 1974 and 1977. The project had begun as an assignment for part of an exhibition that was already planned. It may have seemed to Winogrand almost like the old days, shooting for the magazines.
During most of his Texas years Winogrand was still working on Public Relations; he was also preparing Women Are Beautiful for publication, and he was teaching a full schedule, a responsibility to which he gave his best efforts, in spite of his doubts about its utility. Winogrand kept busy, and there was after all no real justification for his admirers to expect what perhaps subconsciously we expected: a body of work that would express the character of a place that seemed from a distance somehow more American, for better and worse, than any other place of the late twentieth century—an open, fecund, reckless, desperate, mythic place which, if it existed, seemed perfectly tailored ta Winogrand's own personality and talents.
Doubtless there was no such place, but in that case there was some other place that would have been interesting if only for violating our simple preconceptions. In viewing the work shot in Texas—for the most part, a mountain of unedited proof sheets—it is not easy to find evidence that he truly managed to engage that place. We see, for the most part, the record of a photographer who is passing time between trips.
After five years Winogrand resigned from the university and moved to Los Angeles. It is not clear whether he felt that he had done what he had set out to do in Texas, or decided that he could not. In the same year he received his third and last Guggenheim Fellowship. Print sales had come to represent a significant portion of the modest income he needed, and with the fees from occasional workshops and lectures he could now live without teaching regularly or doing commercial assignments. He could devote himself to photographing Los Angeles, a prospect that he spoke of with enthusiasm, as he had earlier of Texas.
Winogrand's working pattern in California seems to have followed an almost mindless, strangely parochial routine that took him back time after time to the same motifs: Farmers' Market, Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman's Chinese Theater, Muscle Beach—places where people in numbers could be seen out-of-doors. Surprisingly, the character of the life exhibited in these places seems, in Winogrand's pictures, of curiously low vitality. Perhaps in compensation, Winogrand's shooting became more frenetic.
It is difficult to say precisely how much Winogrand shot in California, but it is certain that the totals were prodigious. At the time of his death in 1984 more than 2,500 rolls of exposed film remained undeveloped, which seemed appalling, but the real situation was much worse. An additional 6,500 rolls had been developed but not proofed. Contact sheets (first proofs) had been made from some 3,000 additional rolls, but only a few of these bear the marks of even desultory editing. Winogrand's processing records indicate that he developed 8,522 rolls of film during his Los Angeles years, while the backlog grew larger. Part of the unedited work was shot in Texas; nevertheless, it would seem that during his Los Angeles years he made more than a third of a million exposures that he never looked at.
One might reasonably ask whether a backlog of this magnitude should be considered a technical problem or a psychological one. It is difficult not to ask whether Winogrand truly expected ever to edit this mountain of work, or whether in fact he wanted to.
To expose film is not quite to photograph, and the photographer who does not consider his finished pictures is like a pianist who plays only on a silent keyboard. In the absence of proof, mistakes multiply, craft becomes theory, and good thinking passes for art. As Winogrand fell farther behind in the criticism of his own work his technique deteriorated. The last few thousand rolls are plagued with technical failures—optical, chemical, and physical flaws—in one hundred permutations. The most remarkable of these errors is his failure to hold the camera steady at the moment of exposure. Even in bright sunlight, with fast shutter speeds, the negatives are often not sharp. It is as though the making of an exposure had become merely a gesture of acknowledgment that what lay before the camera might make a photograph, if one had the desire and the energy to focus one's attention.
The gargantuan excess of the late work makes it difficult even to form a sense of its rough content, an approximate outline of its ambition. To attempt to view a third of a million pictures, or a substantial portion of that, requires a sustained, concentrated alertness to possibilities that cannot be anticipated. Such concentration is broken by a succession of contact sheets that are filled with crippling mechanical flaws, or by sheets that record rolls of film exposed absentmindedly. In these circumstances the editor's attention is compromised by impatience, then by aggravation, then by something like anger, and the paranoid suspicion that he is the victim of a plot designed by the photographer to
humiliate him. Such frames of mind are inimical to open, unprogrammed receptivity, as are exhaustion, eyestrain, interruptions, ignorance, and schedules, under the pressure of which the editor may, after looking at a thousand frames, have no clear idea of what he has seen, but only the sense of having been led down the road of disremembered experience. Afterwards, one can say with confidence only that the meaning of this mountain of last work remains a mystery, and suppose that a squad or a platoon of scholars will eventually sort it out by motif and date, and construct piece-by-piece a model of what this remarkable artist tried to do, and what he achieved, in the last years of his life.
In the meantime it seems to me that Winogrand was at the end a creative impulse out of control, and on some days a habit without an impulse, one who continued to work, after a fashion, like an overheated engine that will not stop even after the key has been turned off".
What seems a precipitous decline in much of Winogrand's work of the last years might be explained in several ways. One might say that his conception of photography was powerful and simple, and that like a materials-testing laboratory, or a theologian, he made his idea bear a greater and greater load, until it broke; or that he was lost in Texas and in California—that his success had been based on an extraordinary sensitivity to patterns of public gesture and rhythm that he had discovered in New York, his native country, and that although he could transport this special knowledge abroad for quick trips, it would not take root there; or that his private life, for thirty-five years near the edge of disaster, had become an issue on which he was unwilling to fail again, whatever the cost to his work; or that he had perhaps been less than well for years, since the operations of 1975, with their attendant prescribed drugs, and the unprescribed alcohol, to dull the pain and help pass the days of inactivity; or that he had done what his talent and the circumstances had prepared him to do, after which he could only play the role of photographer, having no other options.
There were days of shooting during the last years when Winogrand seems his familiar alert self, fully sensible to the potential meanings of his subject, and to their possible formulation in a photograph. Those good days were often on trips away from Austin or Los Angeles, perhaps because he had momentarily escaped obligations that were, however important to the life of the man, extraneous to the work of the artist. Yet to a biographer the most compelling of the late work would perhaps not be the work of the good days—work with which we are familiar in principle— but the dogged, repetitive, absentminded, oddly ruminative work of the other days.
If Winogrand's work of the last years is deeply flawed, it must be added that to see it is to be struck hard by the uncompromising relentlessness of it, and by the compulsive gambler's curiosity that allowed Winogrand to entrust the meaning of his life to progressively unequal contests with the laws of chance. Much of the late work seems willful, pointless, self-indulgent; still, it is in sum deeply interesting, not only because immoderation is in itself interesting, but because the pictures seem so much like unmediated life: untidy, obscure in meaning, and generally graceless, but always slightly unfamiliar, and therefore compelling. Many of the last frames seem to have cut themselves free of the familiar claims of art. Perhaps he had lost his way, or perhaps he was trying to prepare a clean slate, the ground for a new beginning.
A third of a million pictures will provide data for any thesis, and proof for none, except that of profligacy. Nevertheless, new concerns, or mutations of earlier ones, do seem recorded in the late proof sheets. In Los Angeles Winogrand made thousands of pictures of people who were too far away to be described in detail, perhaps to test how much could be conveyed in terms of posture, stride, silhouette, autographic gesture. Often he would begin to photograph an attractive woman—or a woman that his longdistance intuition told him was attractive—when she was still half a block away. Surely he was interested in the formal photographic problem: What was the greatest distance at which she could be convincingly described? Perhaps, consciously or not, he was also trying to make a photograph that would justly express the true relationship between him and her.
In many late rolls Winogrand also appears to experiment with ideas that revert to the abstracting tendencies that were characteristic of advanced photography a half-century earlier. While photographing people crossing the street his attention is caught by the white lines that define the pedestrian crossings, or the shadows cast by power poles or electric lines. His mind seems to wander from his nominal subject, as though it cannot quite support the interest he has claimed for it.
But perhaps the most unfamiliar of the late pictures are those that approach the condition of simple portraits. These pictures, generally of men, sometimes of aging couples, are remarkable not for their formal panache or their wit but for the simplicity with which they convey a sense of other lives, one might say other failures, except for the fact that they are seen for a moment to be alert, if only to the intrusion of an unknown photographer.
In Los Angeles Winogrand also made thousands of pictures from his car, from the right-hand seat, while being driven by Tom Consilvio or another friend on his mysteriously dreamlike daily rounds. As a pedestrian he had come to shoot at anything that moved, and from the car everything moved. He seemed particularly unable to resist photographing old men, children in strollers, banks, expensive or sporty cars, and of course women on the sidewalk. Much of this work is difficult to comprehend, or perhaps incomprehensible. If an explanation is necessary one might venture that he photographed whether or not he had anything to photograph, and that he photographed most when he had no subject, in the hope that the act of photographing might lead him to one. Such a thesis might (conceivably) explain the 150 rolls that he shot at the Ivar, a strip theater in which a succession of women perform the same dreary routine: suggesting that they might show, then promising to show, then showing their pudenda to an audience of men whom one might call pitiful, or pitiable, but who might nevertheless have been worthy subjects for Chaucer or Hogarth, or for Winogrand, if he had not during those months been a part of the subject.
He also photographed his daughter Melissa, who was nine when he died, in a spirit that seemed more closely allied to ritual than to art. He photographed her each morning when he put her on the school bus. The filmmaker Taylor Hackford thought that the intent of these pictures was a kind of magic, that they were tokens of possession that would assure her safe return.28
The technical decline of the last work was perhaps accelerated by Winogrand's acquisition, in 1982, of a motor-driven film advance for his Leicas, which enabled him to make more exposures with less thought. On the same day he acquired an eight-by-ten-inch view camera, an instrument that proposes a diametrically different approach to photography. The new camera was perhaps an acknowledgment that his old line of thought was nearing the breaking point. He did not use the eight-by-ten, but he talked about using it, and about his notion of finding a small place on the Hudson River, not too far from New York, where he would do still lifes and portraits, and edit the work of the previous quarter-century. Hackford recalls him saying that he was done with the Leica, that he would now do something else. He also said that he would remain in California only for the 1984 Olympics and would then go home, but perhaps he did not really expect to. Late in 1983, when the New York apartment that he had retained during a decade of absence was converted to a tenant-owned cooperative, he gave up his place with what seemed a despairing fatalism. His friends protested that he could borrow money to buy his apartment, and at least make a handsome profit by selling it after buying it at the advantageous tenant's price. But he was afraid of banks and could understand only that he was losing his home of almost thirty years.
On February 1,1984, Winogrand visited a doctor, driven there in spite of his instinctive distrust of authorities by an insupportable itching that had spread from his arms to much of his body. The next day he was hospitalized for tests, and an exploratory operation one week later revealed that he was suffering from cancer of the gall bladder, which could not be treated surgically or by other conventional therapies. With the encouragement of his wife he attended several group-therapy sessions based on the theories of Carl and Stephanie Simonton, in which progress depended in part on patients' ability to visualize their white blood cells. Patients were also asked to complete forms in which they were to identify the various ways in which they had contributed to their illness. In the first space Winogrand wrote that he had always considered himself a kind of unkillable weed, and that he had ignored signs of his vulnerability. In the second space he wrote that he had not resolved feelings of regret and fury at the failure of his first marriage. In the third space he wrote the words "hopelessness and helplessness about the world."
His condition deteriorated rapidly, and on March 19, accompanied by his family, he was driven by Tbm Consilvio to the Gerson Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. He died there shortly after admission.
GARRY WINOGRAND was a man of extraordinary intelligence, original sensibility, and modest learning who from his early limited successes, and from the examples of Evans and Frank, projected without conscious hubris an enormously ambitious conception of photography's potential. He discovered that the best of his pictures were not illustrations of what he had known, but were new knowledge. New knowledge could not be called into existence by an act of will, but had to be discovered, through experiment and the play of intuition, and luck. He learned "to live within the process" of photography, by which perhaps he meant to work in terms of those formal values that derived from his own experience of photography, and those philosophical values for which he could find evidence on his contact sheets.
It takes some effort now to remember clearly modern photography before Winogrand. The most adventurous work of his immediate predecessors now seems in comparison almost simple, and has receded into the security of history, where problems seem clear and solutions inevitable. Winogrand's work in contrast remains difficult and problematic. It is possible that his vision of photography's potential finally led him to problems too complexly difficult to allow rational hope of success. Photography is based on the faith that there is a relation between aspect and meaning, but how does one describe the meaning of chaos without submitting to it? Younger photographers may retreat a little from such Faustian ambition, in exchange for the reassurance of a greater measure of control. Even so, Winogrand will have made their problem more difficult, for his work has demonstrated that photography can give visible and permanent shape to experience so complex, unpredictable, subtle, and evanescent that one would have thought it uncommunicable.
Winogrand insisted that he was not a philosopher, and did not accept the obligations that are incumbent on that role. He accepted responsibility only for the clarification, within the potentials of photography, of his own experience. He constructed clever evasions to distance himself from the moral implications that others might see in the world of his pictures. If these disclaimers were designed to protect him from the wrath of those who would behead the messenger, he disguised the fact well. It is more likely that he was protecting himself from the dangerous, often disabling condition of being simultaneously artist and critic. If he had with words plumbed too deeply the meaning of his pictures—had allowed analytic intelligence to look too insistently over the shoulder of intuition—intuition might have been cowed. Winogrand's abhorrence of closure (his unwillingness to edit rigorously, his inability to agree without cavil even to a tautology, his taste for hyperbole—the self-evident untruth) was an expression of his insistence on maintaining the hegemony of intuition. To discuss the non-photographic meanings of his work might make him too consciously aware of those meanings, or even make him responsible for those meanings.
He was of course responsible for those meanings. Somewhere beneath his craftsman's love for and fascination with the ways in which photography revises and reconstructs the real world he surely understood that the revision and reconstruction in his pictures described his world. It is a world made up of energy, ambition, flaming selfishness, desperate loneliness, and unfamiliar beauty. It was his world, not ours, except to the degree that we might accept his pictures as a just metaphor for our recent past.
When we consider the heedless daring of his successes and his failures we become impatient with tidy answers to easy questions, and with the neat competence of much of what now passes for ambitious photography. Winogrand has given us a body of work that provides a new clue to what photography might become, a body of work that remains dense, troubling, unfinished, and profoundly challenging. The significance of that work will be thought by some to reside in matters of style or technique or philosophical posture. There is no original harm in this misunderstanding, and useful work may come of it, but it will have little to do with the work of Garry Winogrand, whose ambition was not to make good pictures, but through photography to know life.