Garry Winogrand, United States
8.5 x 13 in.
Gift of Mr. William Berley, 1978.266.9
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Garry Winogrand (WIN-uh-grand)was born in New York City in 1928. After serving eighteen months in the Air Force during World War II, he enrolled at the City College of New York under the GI Bill, which provided college tuition for veterans returning from the war. He then transferred to Columbia University to study painting. Winogrand was already enamored of cameras, and at Columbia a friend introduced him to the darkroom and the process of photography. Within two weeks he abandoned painting and never looked back.
After three years at Columbia, Winogrand enrolled in photojournalism classes at the New School for Social Research in New York City. In 1952 he began his career as a freelance photojournalist and advertising photographer, and his work regularly appeared in magazines like Collier’s and Sports Illustrated. He had his first solo exhibition in 1960, and in the ‘60s and ‘70s Winogrand received three Guggenheim Fellowships and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. He began teaching in 1969 at the Art Institute of Chicago, and later taught at the University of Texas at Austin.
Central to Winogrand's philosophy was that a photograph is about only itself—not about the life or motivations of the subject or the photographer, and not about how the photo came to be. "I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed," he said. "In the end, maybe the correct language would be how the fact of putting four edges around a collection of information or facts transforms it."
Winogrand went through great quantities of film. He developed all his own film and when he made prints of his photos, he accepted assistance from a trusted friend who was a good printer. But Winogrand wasn't interested in talking about the equipment he used or how he composed a shot: "I’ll say this, I’m pretty fast with a camera when I have to be. However, I think it’s irrelevant. I mean, what if I said that every photograph I made was set up? From the photograph, you can’t prove otherwise. You don’t know anything from the photograph about how it was made, really…You’ve got to deal with how photographs look, what’s there, not how they’re made. Even with what camera."
Winogrand shot many thousands of photographs, and those he chose to print often contained humor or irony, diverse gestures and expressions, people in motion, public settings, and an erratic energy that spoke to the complexity of American life in the late 1900s. He found inspiration in the photographs taken by Walker Evans and Robert Frank, also photographers of American life.
Winogrand liked using a wide angle lens because it allowed him to capture a lot of visual activity. Notice all the different elements in this photograph: a busy street, urban architecture, purposefully striding women, detailed reflections in the windows, a crowded bus stop, a man slumped in a wheelchair, and foreground elements like the sidewalk shadows and street sign.
Women were a favorite subject for Winogrand. “I suspect that I respond to their energies, how they stand and move their bodies and faces. In the end, the photographs are descriptions of poses or attitudes that give an idea, a hint of their energies.”
Glances and posture create a sense of narrative in this photograph. The man slumped in his wheelchair holds a cup between his knees to collect change from passers-by. The three women approaching him are just starting to react. The woman in white is looking at him and appears to be steering wide to avoid contact. The other two women are just noticing him and seem to be shifting their paths accordingly (notice, incidentally, how their strides look like they’ll follow their respective paths of light).
The older woman who stands directly opposite the man in the wheelchair has her back to the camera and her hand on her hip, with her attention down the street as she watches for the bus. She may or may not have noticed the man sitting there, but she appears to be as intent on avoiding him as the women on the sidewalk.
Notice the young boy sitting on the edge of the bench at the right of the scene. He peers around the back of the bench at the man in the wheelchair, whom everyone else is doing their best to ignore. He sits quietly waiting for the bus, his feet not reaching the ground, absentmindedly scratching at his hand. The boy’s mouth hangs slightly ajar, and he shows a distinctly childish and open sense of curiosity.
The star at the bottom edge of the picture is cut off, but there’s enough to be recognizable as one of the stars that honor big names in show business on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The name on this star is not shown, which eliminates the distraction that specificity might cause, and allows the viewer to identify the location only in general terms.
The star directly in front of the women's feet has the name of Louella Parsons (1881–1978), a gossip columnist, who actually has two Walk of Fame stars, one for her work in radio and one for motion pictures (this is the one for radio). This star is also difficult to see in the photograph—DAM Master Teacher Lisa Steffen had to turn the picture upside-down and increase the contrast to make out the name.
The three women walking down the street are backlit, but the beams of light give their walk an aura of Hollywood magic—the beams could bring to mind a red carpet, or searchlights crossing in the sky, or spotlights on the stage.
Light and Shadows
At the bottom center of the picture, light coming from two directions converges on a star in the sidewalk. The light from the right side is sunlight streaming around the tall building in the upper right. That same light hits the store window behind the three women and bounces off, creating the second stream of light. Long, late afternoon shadows from both directions create additional layers and patterns.
Winogrand’s style of photographing in public places meant he usually chose to work with available light. Besides the two diagonal streams of light, notice the bright reflection on the building to the left, the softly sunlit background, and the glow on the hip of the woman at the bus stop (created by a reflection off something outside the frame). Also note that none of the human figures are situated in direct light.
The photographer’s angle makes it hard to match up the reflections in the windows on the left with the scene on the street. You can see a reflection of a street bench, but it’s not the same bench you see in the foreground of the picture—it’s the one further back by the tree. And there’s a man you can see in the reflection who you can’t see on the sidewalk.
Winogrand often composed photos at unconventional angles. He pointed out the arbitrary expectation that horizon lines must be parallel to the horizontal edge of the frame, and wouldn’t accept that limitation on his freedom to arrange form in a picture. He often tried tilting his camera in different directions, seeking the best effect. The tilted perspective can have varying results, sometimes emphasizing a particular element in a scene, sometimes allowing something into the frame, sometimes making the subject seem off-kilter, sometimes giving a picture a complex or unexpected sense of balance.
Don’t miss how the shape of the trees echoes the shape of the beehive hairdos on the three women. DAM photography curator Eric Paddock refers to this effect as “visual alliteration.”
Garry Winogrand’s Los Angeles Listen to DAM curator of photography Eric Paddock describe Garry Winogrand’s Los Angeles in detail.
Streetwise – A Look at Garry Winogrand Watch a very informative video about Garry Winogrand produced by the Museum of Photographic Arts as part of the curriculum for an accompanying exhibition, "Streetwise: Masters of 60s Photography."
Garry Winogrand with Bill Moyers This portion of a Bill Moyers series on creativity features Garry Winogrand as he walks through the streets of Los Angeles and talks about his process. Produced by WNET in 1982.
Garry Winogrand Slide Show This entertaining slideshow is a great way to introduce students to the scope of Winogrand’s work.
Garry Winogrand Photo History Project An interesting example of a student project (no connection to the DAM) about Winogrand.
Read a brief biography of the artist and view other Garry Winogrand photographs from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
This interview with Garry Winogrand by Barbaralee Diamonstein appears in her book Visions and Images: American Photographers on Photography (Rizzoli, 1982).
This article, about Winogrand’s photographic legacy, was originally published in The Washington Post.
Winogrand, Garry, and John Szarkowski. Winogrand: Figments from the Real World. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2003.
This book, a great overview of Winogrand's work, is divided thematically into different sections. With 179 plates of the artist's photographs, as well as an essay by Szarkowski on Winogrand's life and work.
Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.
The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.