Rubinfien et al - Garry Winogrand

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Rubinfien et al - Garry Winogrand
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Author:  James Lehrer [ Sun Dec 11, 2016 4:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Rubinfien et al - Garry Winogrand

Back in the early 80's - before I'd ever heard of a pixel - I shot with a M4-P, a 50mm 'cron, and either Tri-x or HP-5. I worked long hours as a lawyer, traveled a lot, and shot photographs whenever and wherever an opportunity presented itself. Although I'd spent countless hours in darkrooms when I was in high school and college, I no longer had time to develop and proof my film or to make prints. Instead, I dropped my exposed rolls and picked up proofs and prints at a SilverLab black & white lab on my way to work. SilverLab was on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, and the printer I worked with was the late Tom Consilvio.

Tom was a highly regarded photographic printer. He was a friend of Garry Winogrand, and printed some of his vast output for exhibition and publication both during Winogrand's life and posthumously. Although I never met Winogrand, Tom used to tell me about him, and I acquired some of Winogrand's books: Public Relations, Women are Beautiful, Stock Photographs: the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, and Garry Winogrand (Grossmont College exhibition catalog).

Garry Winogrand's work has lagged in the kind of critical appreciation and broader retrospective distribution compared to that lavished on his contemporaries: Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander for example. This is not because he came onto the critics' and curators' radars late: he was one of the early "stars" of the photographic department at MoMA under director John Szarkowski. Likely a significant reason for the tardy retrospective recognition of Winogrand's work is the way he worked, particularly in the latter part of his life after moving from New York to Chicago and later to Los Angeles. He gave himself over to the drive to photograph, and developing film, editing proofs and making prints first became work he relegated to others, and eventually was left undone. In 1983, Winogrand gave 16,000 prints to the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) in Tucson. That immense archive was expanded in the early 1990's with the acquisition of more than 19,000 contact sheets, 14,000 prints and 45,500 35mm color slides retained by Winogrand's widow. At his death in 1984, he left 2,500 rolls of exposed, undeveloped film and 4,100 rolls that had been processed but not proofed. This vast assemblage of materials had not be organized or reviewed, and Winogrand left no instructions for their handling or disposition. Faced with this mass of material and absence of guidance, his estate, curators, editors and publishers have been (and to some extent still are) faced with a number of ethical (not to say aesthetic) issues: which - if any - of the remaining frames would Winogrand have printed had he lived? How would he have printed them? How would he have selected and arranged them for exhibition? For publication? Is it right for someone else to make such decisions for the artist, and if they do, where does the artist's work stop and the curator or editor's work begin? To put the dialog concerning this dilemma into perspective, at least one line of thought was to preserve the undeveloped rolls in a freezer and not make the images public. Might not some well-meaning "purist" have urged the materials be destroyed?

These issues, as well as a fascinating review of Winogrand's life, his influences, his working methods, and the reception of his work over time, are discussed in detail by the textual contributors to Garry Winogrand: the editor Leo Rubinfien, Sarah Greenough, Susan Kismaric, Erin O'Toole, Tod Papageorge, and Sandra S. Phillips. In 463 pages, their texts accompany hundreds of beautifully printed images, supplemented by a detailed chronography, exhibition list, bibliography, and information on the 401 plates presented in the large-format, hardbound book. Published by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Yale University Press (2013).

An excellent review of the exhibition at SFMOMA, for which this book serves as a catalogue, was posted online by Greg Allikas on February 6, 2014 in VERBOSE, the blog of

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Author:  jedorme [ Thu Dec 15, 2016 2:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rubinfien et al - Garry Winogrand

Another very interesting write up about a photographer that I have always wanted to know a lot more about. I have seen videos of him working on the street & could not believe his blazing speed with his film camera. Also recall he favored the somewhat wide for street work 28mm lens, which is what I have now on my Q. Altogether a very fascinating photographer. And the end of summer we were up in the Bay Area & spent a day at SFMOMA in their new to me digs - but unfortunately his exhibition was not there at the time. Now you have stimulated me to try to learn much more about Winogrand. A shame that in your retirement you are not teaching a course about the history of photography or some such subject, as you are obviously very well read, if only though your private book collection. Pls keep up the good work of teaching in this forum. Cheers. Jed

Author:  James Lehrer [ Fri Dec 16, 2016 7:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rubinfien et al - Garry Winogrand

Thanks, Jed. From the discussions of Winogrand's working methods in various books, some be photographers who accompanied him in Manhattan and Los Angeles, he used the 50mm and 35mm focal lengths earlier in his career, and favored the 28mm later on. He apparently felt the wider angle produced images in which people appeared separated by greater distances. Even though there might be several people in one frame, the distortion produced the sense that they were apart from one another, even if, in fact, they were together. There is a very telling quote from Leo Rubinfien's introduction, contrasting Winogrand's choice of focal lengths with common photojournalistic practice at the time:

"Telephoto, whith its nebulous fore-and backgrounds, said naturally how important the photographer believed one element of the larger story to be and that the reader should feel strongly about it himself. It was perhaps the main optical tool of magazine humanism, and when Winogrand began to abandon it, around 1957, he was renouncing a world of emotion and understanding. Being keen enough to read character as richly with a wide one ordinarily did with a long..., he was starting to make photographs in which a sprawling space gave certain unmoored facts a prominence vivid and sometimes even weird...."
Rubinfien et al, Garry Winogrand (2013), SFMOMA/Yale, p. 24.

Author:  jedorme [ Sat Dec 17, 2016 2:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rubinfien et al - Garry Winogrand

Jim, thanks very much for this additional bit of insight regarding Winogrand's working methods, particularly his evolution from the 50mm to 35mm to 28mm. Most fascinating indeed. Shows what a brilliant mind existed behind his camera, something not always associated with what some would think of as a rather mundane sector of photography - that is to say "street photography".

Author:  James Lehrer [ Mon Dec 19, 2016 3:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rubinfien et al - Garry Winogrand

I know what you mean, Jed. There seems to have been a kind of prejudice in some critical and popular quarters, which (and I'm guessing here) might have been a sort of backlash to publications such as Robert Frank's The Americans, followed by Garry Winogrand's work exhibited at MOMA in New York along with work by Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. One element of that backlash seems to be a negative reaction to snapshot-like compositions and seemingly banal subjects being given the status of art by a major museum. I'm sure you and I can easily imagine some MOMA visitors wondering if someone was playing a trick on them. Even as accomplished and astute a photographer as Robert Adams took time to warm up to Winogrand:
Garry Winogrand's subject was, I now believe, also perfection, though many of his street scenes appear to tip under the weight of roiling confusion -- so much so that for a long time I did not appreciate his accomplishment. I even wondered if I would like him in person, though when I met him one afternoon at a conference in Carmel I certainly did, as anyone would have. He was cheerful, ardent, and without pretense.
Robert Adams, Why People Photograph, Aperture (1994), pp. 18-19.

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