The title of this post is by Susan Sontag, from her book, “On Photography.” This pithy statement speaks to the core of why taking still pictures will always be one of my main obsessions . I have had a camera in my hands since early childhood, due in part to my father’s profession as a photofinisher (thus having all my film processed for free – obviously in the pre-digital era) and this hobby/passion still goes strong today – as my family, friends and faithful blog readers can attest to. I don’t have a favorite subject – I am just as thrilled getting the “right” shot of flowers or trees or squirrels or people or buildings or the sky or the ocean or the moon, etc etc etc. Each brings its own magic of discovery, a welling of emotion and creates an immortal moment in time.
Appreciation of this art form takes me from time to time to exhibits of other photographers much more talented and renowned than myself so last week I wended my way to the Met Museum of Art for a retrospective exhibition of the work of Garry Winogrand. Winogrand was a New Yorker (born in the Bronx) and his photographs of “my town” which coincide with my own teen years carry particular resonance. Winogrand keenly honed in on the atmosphere that was evolving during the late 60’s and 70’s as the “Make Love, Not War” attitude came into focus. His photos also have a timelessness – while obviously focussing on the fashion – clothes, hairstyles etc of the time, the themes are nevertheless universal.
Like many photographers, including myself, Winogrand’s preferred to shoot candid pictures – his subjects rarely knew that they were being photographed, thus producing visual veritas – a raw, elemental, visceral view into the souls of the subjects. Winogrand, in fact was often criticized for exploiting the individuals he photographed – and I have to agree some of the photos are so vividly emotional that perhaps the privacy of these people was invaded. Given our current plague of paparazzi and worse, cellphone and computer hackers, this personal space is crossed all too often. I have always been particularly careful with my photos by photoshopping strangers out of my photos and I do try to only post “safe” pics of friends and family on social media, leaving the more sensitive shots in my private collection (given the recent hacking of celebrities’ “private photos” in the CLOUD I may have to reconsider where to stash the “for-my-eyes-only pics – they are NOT in the CLOUD, BTW).
Ironically, Winogrand himself hadn’t edited more than a third of a million exposed frames of film – he died within a few months of being diagnosed with gall bladder cancer in 1984 and left more than 2500 rolls of undeveloped film in his wake. Fortunately others took up his cause and posthumously brought these pictures to life. Winogrand was obviously prolific and had wide swatches of favorite subjects, but there are four recurring themes that I found most compelling so will share those with you in this post.
Now on to Winogrand’s photos – you decide for yourself whether or not he has overstepped personal boundaries.
LOVERS IN PUBLIC – The intimacy that these pictures bring forth is palpable – these couples, like lovers of any time and place are lost in each other, oblivious to their surroundings. There is very much a voyeur quality to Winogrand’s camera’s eye:
ANIMALS AND PEOPLE – Many of Winogrand’s photos were dark, moody and a bit seedy. However, he did also portray a lighter, playful, humorous side, as is evident in these photos of animals, alone and interacting with people – although on another glance some of these could be also be part of the sad “ALONE IN A CROWD” section below:
SIGN OF THE TIMES – It is difficult to explain to those who weren’t there how the late 60’s and 70’s were so electric and fantastical – while I suppose everyone’s formative teen years may have a similar importance – I do believe that this was a unique time. Everything was exploding – politics, music, art, sex – and to be fair a large part of this was due to the plethora of drugs that deluged the scene. Still, it was exciting – and Winogrand’s photos capture succinctly the tone – from the mod hairdos and short skirts to the intensity of the anti-war protests and manic dancing naked in the street (no, I did not). I have included my own photo of the time so you can see how “in” I was with long straight hair and minidress:
ALONE IN A CROWD – Winogrand’s photographs were most insightful, impactful, compelling and frankly disturbing when he turned his lens to crowds, relentlessly focussing on individuals with obvious inner demons. As stated before, while I appreciate his artistry I am uncomfortable that these people’s turmoil are so exposed – what do you think:?
Why did Winogrand turn his camera so often to this dark, anguished view? Was he in a way showing his own sadness and depression? We really can’t ever know – especially since so many of his photographs were not even developed by him personally – whose to say? Suffice it to comment that, as art is in the eye of the beholder, it is the viewer who assigns emotions to what he is seeing – leave it at that. However you view them, one thing is clear: Winogrand was a master photographer.
Personally, I will continue to explore (and as is my nature, obsess over) this art form, and am quite content that my predilection is the more ebullient love of life arena – or as stated in another post “PURA VIDA!”