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Photography Masters - Garry Winogrand
Sunday Magazine

Photography Masters - Garry Winogrand

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

Garry Winogrand was born in 1928 in New York City, and after his graduation entered the US Army in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and later moved to study painting at Columbia University. Here Winogrand was introduced to photography by the school newspaper’s photographer, and what fascinated him was the school’s 24-hour darkroom. Shortly after this introduction, he switched from painting to photography and never looked back.

Over the years, Winogrand came to be recognized as a distinctive photographer known for his street photographs documenting the social and cultural milieu of mid-century metropolitan US in the 1960s; his B&W images being replete with all the nightlife, excitement, heartbreak, trauma, and banality that constitutes life. Winogrand’s candid images of ordinary folks engaged in day to day life, his unpredictable camera angles, uncanny sense of timing, and ability to capture bizarre and sometimes implausible configurations of people, places, and things made him one of the most influential photographers of his generation.

Winogrand redefined conventional templates of Street Photography because his photographs often appear haphazard, tilted, and poorly composed - what came to be called the 'snapshot aesthetic'. This innovative concept emphasized his subject matter in a way which challenged preconceived notions of American society and the post-WWII optimism captured by commercial photography. Surprisingly, Winogrand’s skewed and off-center images united discordant elements into one composition, allowing the viewer a different type of experience. He in a way sowed the seeds of influencing an entire generation of photographers and artists to push the boundaries of what photography as a medium could be and what it could expose.

This photo depicts an interesting street scene when the focal point is the man in car with women. The pedestrians look at them with curiosity and interest while walking past them however the women’s eyes have caught something else behind them which is not known to the viewer of the photograph. Hence this creates a sense of unsettling curiosity for the viewer.
This photo depicts an interesting street scene when the focal point is the man in car with women. The pedestrians look at them with curiosity and interest while walking past them however the women’s eyes have caught something else behind them which is not known to the viewer of the photograph. Hence this creates a sense of unsettling curiosity for the viewer.

Winogrand, whose photographs which were exhibited widely during his lifetime, received three Guggenheim Fellowships, to produce "photographic studies of American life," to study "the effect of the media on events," and to photograph California. He taught photography at the School of Visual Arts and Cooper Union in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other institutions. His books of photographs include The Animals, Women Are Beautiful, and Public Relations.

Using a practice of walking down streets snapping the shutter with the camera held ajar and far away from his eye, he startled and provoked his subjects as he shot them and thus candidly captured their puzzled and shocked expressions. Essentially, Winogrand broke the rules of composition with his images often blurry cut off his subject's bodies; branching off from the glossy, balanced compositions of his predecessors.

This photo captures the emotion of the man speaking inside a phone booth. The photograph follows the rule of thirds where the key elements (the man) in a photograph are placed in the location where the horizontal and vertical lines dividing the images into equal parts intersect.
This photo captures the emotion of the man speaking inside a phone booth. The photograph follows the rule of thirds where the key elements (the man) in a photograph are placed in the location where the horizontal and vertical lines dividing the images into equal parts intersect.

Despite his apparently unstructured approach, Winogrand's photographs are sophisticated, chance observations of daily life; an artist who was fond of visual puns and tilted exposures. Although his approach was lighthearted, his formal acuity and absurdist appreciation for the visual world were serious innovations that resonate in many contemporary photographers’ compositions.

From the age of 43, Winogrand taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design and the University of Texas at Austin, before moving to Los Angeles. It was during this phase that he photographed Los Angeles sites as Hollywood Boulevard, Venice Beach, the Los Angeles International Airport, and the Ivar Theater, a strip club. It is said that during this period till his sudden death at the age of 56, he photographed relentlessly and did not edit even a fraction of the thousands of rolls of film that he shot. No wonder, he left behind a body of work that was in complete disarray, with about 35,000 prints, 6,600 rolls of film, 45,000 colour transparencies, and about 22,000 contact sheets (nearly 800,000 images). Ironically, the first major retrospective of Winogrand’s work in 25 years, held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2013, exhibited nearly 100 photos that the photographer himself had never seen.

A rather quirky photo of two kids hanging upside down on a zoo fence. The two kids are juxtaposed with the two rhinos in the background to create visual interest. The bystander woman’s attention is directed towards the children which further strengthens the focal point of interest.
A rather quirky photo of two kids hanging upside down on a zoo fence. The two kids are juxtaposed with the two rhinos in the background to create visual interest. The bystander woman’s attention is directed towards the children which further strengthens the focal point of interest.

A bio documentary on Garry Winogrand, All Things Are Photographable, showcases the prolific photographer who pulled his art form into modernity in the context of his turbulent life and the passionate politics of the times. As Winogrand famously once said, “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.”

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Siddharth Kumar, is the Co-Founder & Lead Photographer SIDART Photography, a professional photography venture focusing on weddings, portraiture and commercial photography. After an 8-year stint in an MNC, he decided to pursue his passion for photography and music. In 2019, he was awarded Certificate of Honorable Mention by International Photography Awards (IPA), Los Angeles. In 2014, he won the First Prize at the International Photography Competition organized by Mindshare Worldwide. He holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Piano Performance from Trinity College London.