Garry Winogrand at the MET : A traveling show gets new home

He was one of the most ironic photographers of our time.
Prolific,obsessed,and a social commentator with a fast shooting camera.
The show currently at the Metropolitan began at SF MOMA a year ago.
And it had a significantly different take away flavor.

A master of street photography, Garry Winogrand was an observer of the human condition and, arguably did his most iconic work in the 60’s.
Heavily influenced by Robert Frank and The Americans, he felt there there was another American story to be told.

Shooting over 36,000 rolls of film in his career, he left over 6,600 rolls at his untimely death at 56. He had never seen these images,and the exhibition uses a great deal of these images, plus others he had marked yet never printed
Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984) Central Park Zoo, New York
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

( the side story on thi s shot is that the man was a well known animal trainer, and this was Mr. Winogrands way to make some social commentary)

“Winogrand was an artistic descendant of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, but differed sharply from them,” says Leo Rubinfien, guest curator of the exhibition. “He admired Frank’s The Americans, but felt the work missed the main story of its time, which in his mind was the emergence of suburban prosperity and isolation. The hope and buoyancy of middle-class life in postwar America is half of the emotional heart of Winogrand’s work. The other half is a sense of undoing. The tension between these qualities gives his work its distinct character.”

Check this video from his time in California Garry Winogrand

There are 3 main segments in the showing, starting from the beginning of his career, with his exploration of the single character, pulled out of a scene of people.
The second segment deals primarily with his most well known period, including iconic images.

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984) New York 1968
Gelatin silver print
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Dr. L.F. Peede, Jr.
© The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Now the third segment has a very emotional turn.
As the curators are asking you to examine his life behind the camera, there are revelations, in the form of documents.
A letter from his wife spelling out the reasons for the impending dissolution of the marriage, and his handwritten letter to his daughter Laurie.
This letter from a father who misses his daughter, peppered with affectionate names, and making sure she knew she could call “collect” anytime, gives a sense of his personal situation with divorce and the draw of his career at odds.

This last segment has so many posthumous images, it’s primarily a subjective view by the curators to paint a particular look at a major photographic figure of the 20th century.
By honing in on images of singular people on the street, instead of plucking them from a crowd, you get a sense of an artist’s shift into a search for a new message. Or is it a message of his age and all of the baggage accumulated in his life?

In the 70’s, John Szarkowski felt his work lost it’s drama.

Winogrands move to California near the last years of his life (see video link above) yieled images like this:

22. Los Angeles, 1980-1983_WinograndGarry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984) Los Angeles 1980-83
Gelatin silver print
The Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

The last image in this edition of the show features a photo by Lee Freidlander of Garry Winogrand with his daughter Melissa sitting on his knee.
A month later he was dead from gall bladder cancer.

With this last image housed in it’s own plexi display case, it ended the exhibit for me, culminating on a very sad note.
With the final image of him and his daughter, you are also sent back into the last room to check out another posthumous image from his last months on earth, that of a woman in the gutter in Hollywood

Now I saw this show at SF MOMA and walked away with a feeling of revelation, not sadness.
I also went back again to the show to see if I had the same reaction.
yep, I did.
I think you’d have to be devoid of emotion to feel otherwise.
The sadness was not a bad thing. I’m a big fan of feeling things,and if a photo exhibit can make me do more than “Griswold” through a show, it’s a good thing.

SF MOMA had a different venue with a much more open space, higher ceilings, and a different layout.
I love being able to see one show in a variety of venues to see how they are laid out and gauge a local curators take on the materials presented to them.

I feel that the MET has had some major photography exhibit wins in recent years, and this show stands among it’s finest.
For a more studied look at this traveling show make sure you pick up the book, Garry Winogrand
And try to find this one as well:Winogrand: Figments from the Real World .
Then you can start going down the rabbit hole to find the books published during his lifetime.

See the exhibit, and if you aren’t on your way to NYC, buy the catalogue

Garry Winogrand
June 27–September 21, 2014
1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street)
New York, NY 10028
Phone: 212-535-7710
If you do go, get the audio tour. Always worth it for a retrospective like this.

NB: The amount of posthumous images were disconcerting at first. Heck, he hadn’t even developed a ton of the film. If you remember shooting with film, this was a huge part, even if you didn’t print.
But this show has been put together in large part by people who knew him and those who’ve studied him.
Let’s be honest; you have no problem with Vivian Meir’s work being exhibited and she NEVER showed her work.

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