The more I do, the more I do
In 1960, he photographed the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles; he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and photographed in the Southwest and California. In 1967, he, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus were shown together in the Museum of Modern Art exhibition "New Documents.” His first book The Animals, taken in New York zoos and aquaria, was published by The Museum of Modem Art in 1969. That same year he began to teach photography, received his second Guggenheim Fellowship, and decided to give up all commercial assignments. He soon moved to Austin to teach at the University of Texas. Light Gallery published his second book, Women Are Beautiful in 1975. The Museum of Modern Art exhibited his work under the title "Public Relations" in 1977 with a publication supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts that included an essay by Tod Papageorge tracing Winogrand's career. Stock Photographs: The Ft. Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo was published in 1980 by the University of Texas Press. In the summer of I978 Winogrand moved to Los Angeles, where he is now photographing, among other things, Cinco de Mayo, the Day of the Dead, the Blessing of the Animals, and "how the rich exist."
When asked in a recent telephone conversation how his work has changed since The Animals, he replied. "I don't think about it; I've got enough to do. I know there are things that I’ll try to shoot, that I wouldn't have tried years ago, things that it just wouldn't have occurred to me to possibly photograph. You talk about artists changing or growing, I think that photographers, the good ones, the more interesting ones, do it by dealing with more things. From my own experience, the more I do, the more I do. There are things I wouldn't have thought of photographing, that I might have passed by, or avoided. It's very simple. We're talking about what you deal with in the world. How do you live? Let's leave it at what you're interested in. The kind of person I am, the kind of photographer I am, I'm pretty much out in the world. Let's put it this way: If I went to a parade, and I wasn’t photographing, I'd be bored silly. They're boring, as far as I’m concerned. But when I'm photographing, it's far from boring. Basically, photography is a way of living."
Winogrand has confronted the most recalcitrant of moments, and wrestled from them photographs which refuse to simplify or reduce his perceptions. The photographs in Public Relations address some of the major issues of the 60s and 70s with an insight that future historians will find nowhere else, and that we ourselves are surprised to discover. It's not so much the who, what, when, and where as it is the how. ("In a photograph, you know what something looked like. You don't know what they're doing," declares Winogrand.)
Maybe it's because most of us don't know what we're doing most of the time that the confusion in these pictures seems so precise. More likely it is Winogrand's ability to describe the contradictions between those casual gestures that flicker at the edges of our perceptions, where soundmen holding microphones betray the contortions of the men on center stage or the composure of a little girl holds in equilibrium the facial distortions of a man in a hardhat.
"A photograph is the illusion of a literal description of a piece of time and space,” says Garry Winogrand. T.J. Clark says "We are confronted with prejudice which clearly believes itself to be description; before our eyes, depiction changes into ideology."
It is necessary to speak for a moment about the source and location of this ideology. The success of a Winogrand photograph glosses over our awareness of the dogma and myths that lie behind it. Garry Winogrand is not the source, bur rather the perpetuator (not the perpetrator). He has pictured and given form to subtle (and blatant) social attitudes that we unconsciously recognize in our appreciation of his pictures. In our looking, it is essential to question, for example, the reaction of the women to the camera, and the dominant position of males in the hierarchy of the pictures.
We are frequently confronted with an easy joke, a quick seduction. Beyond the central action, in the faces of the supporting roles and in our own probing of possible answers to the questions raised by the pictures, we are making assumptions about the people and their situations.
We have no absolute certainty about what is happening, but the density of activity invites interpretation. We make up stories to explain for ourselves what is going on.
A Winogrand photograph is not an aesthetic object to be contemplated for its beautiful shapes and tones. The immediacy of the pictures puts us in the social situation and demands that wemake sense of it by assigning meaning to each of those grins, leers, grimaces, and gestures.
Many photographs of people offer this. The greatness of a Winogrand photograph is in the choices that we are forced to make: it is the richness of these facial indications, the potential tensions of the interaction, and his absolute refusal to simplify or sentimentalize the horrible beauty of each moment.
There is, of course, no such thing as simply describing it as it is. "What the world 'is' depends extensively on how it isdescribed." (Victor Burgin) Garry Winogrand did not invent the meanings of his pictures, nor are they free-associated fantasies by the viewer. The intricate network of public and private knowledge is activated and reinforced in that space between the picture and the viewer, Burgin says. Our internal monologue continually describes the world and therefore determines for us what is "out there". It is this description that we act upon: a description based upon what we learned in school, things our mothers told us, movies, what we read in the newspaper. Only by admitting these assumptions do we begin to change them.
Garry Winogrand has recognized and pictured situations in which our assumptions are working overtime. We have the luxury of reacting to these social interactions in privacy, but we do his work and ourselves an injustice if we fail to challenge the prejudices that activate his pictures.