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Garry Winogrand: An Unassuming Genius

September 2, 2014
Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984). Los Angeles, 1969. Gelatin silver print. Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

«In a taped 1977 interview at Rice University, Garry Winogrand sits before a panel of students in the most casual position: his feet are propped up onto the podium before him and he leans back, relaxed, with his hands behind his head—the ultimate posture of a carefree New Yorker. Winogrand's conversational and, at times, sarcastic tone reveals how he does not take himself too seriously. In his answers, he makes his photographic process seem quite simple: a matter of waiting for spontaneity and a having a quick eye to capture it. Despite his quick pace when photographing, Winogrand was able to give his chance encounters great meaning, effectively using light and interesting angles to powerfully capture the fast-moving American culture.»

Photography means "drawing with light," which Winogrand was able to do exceptionally well. In many of his pictures, the light becomes the very subject itself. In Los Angeles (1969), my favorite photograph of his, Winogrand uses light to create a very powerful image. The setting sun creates a runway of light for three well-dressed women in the center as they walk past a man slumped over in a wheelchair, left in the shadows. The light becomes crucial in the image because it emphasizes a contrast between freedom and desperation. Winogrand was not only quick on his feet to be able to capture this moment in time, but he was also extremely smart to know that, in this scene, light is much more than an accessory.

Winogrand used not only light but interesting angles to create dynamic photographs. By tilting his camera when taking photos of people in action, especially on the street, he created pictures that emphasized movement. His tilting technique brings a rushed feeling and a sense of urgency to his photographs. His choice of an angled shot, rather than one that strives for perfect balance, is not arbitrary. Winogrand's use of a stimulating perspective was truly inventive.

Trying to follow Winogrand's great attention to light and unique, angled perspectives has pushed me out of my comfort zone as a photographer. Light is a very important element of photography, but giving it meaning in an image is difficult and, as someone who feels a need for balance and symmetry, I often find it challenging to use unconventional angles. However, I know that pushing myself and trying these techniques will make for better photographs because, despite how much the nonchalant Winogrand would deny it, I am learning from a true genius.

Left: Photograph of band in an outdoor area. Right: Photograph of young girl feeding animals.

Alexa. Untitled photographs, 2014

Alexa undefined

Alexa was a participant in the 2014 Digital Stories workshop for teens ages 15 through 18.