Research notes – Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand (1928  – 1984) was an American photographer famous for his street work.

Winogrand shoot primarily black and white film using a rangefinder with a wide-angle lens (28mm). The photographs are primarily made on a frontal plane (ie not from above or below). The short focal length used means that he had to be close to his subjects when taking the pictures. As can be seen in the short film below, that sometimes meant that his subject will notice (and occasionally object) to his presence, but in general he had a very stealthy way of shooting, often simulating that he was checking his camera’s dials and then shooting the next second. Watching him in action is a delight, as he fires away without almost being noticed. This allowed him to obtain candid shots in spite of being in the middle of the action.

Many of the photos made by Winogrand contain crowds, both from the streets (in NY, Los Angeles) and from organized events (eg political conventions, balls ). In the crowd pictures, you would normally have a person / group standing out (for example, the girl with the white dress in the Centennial Ball picture (link), or the man shouting at the microphone in the Elliot Richardson Press Conference picture (link)) or groups of people joined by their actions where no one really stands out (like the Point Mugu Naval Air-Station picture (link)). Winogrand pictures have a naturalistic, uncontrived nature, representing a slice of “life” as it was happening in front of him. He was a very prolific photographer who seemed to enjoy the act of shooting more than other aspects of photography. While he died unexpectedly, barely a month after being diagnosed with cancer, he left behind thousands of unprocessed film rolls. In the short video above one can see that Winogrand would take several frames of the same scene and had little regard for economy of shooting. His style of shooting was not very far from what we experience today with digital cameras, in which we can rack hundreds of shoots in a single photo session.

It would be tempting to assume that part of his success was down to taking so many different pictures of each scene, but the reality is that he was not using a motor drive and although he could rewind the film quite quickly (his domination of the camera as a tool is very clear), there is no way his final results were down to luck. Some of his pictures show people seemingly doing different things in one frame, or looking in all sorts of directions (see for instance his JFK at the DNC 1960 picture, for instance (link)), but the framing and timing used brings harmony to the chaos and provide a clear path for the eyes to travel.

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