When Christine said I was the son of Winogrand, apart from the astonishing compliment of being compared to one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, I actually realised I didn’t know a great deal about him. When I started to look at his work, watch interviews and read about his life, a man appeared who had a startlingly similar ethos towards photography as me.
Born in New York, in the Bronx in 1928 he spent two years in the army after High School and then went to study painting at Columbia University. Whilst there he was introduced to a 24 hour dark room by a fellow student and never looked back. Still living with his parents he escaped home by walking around the streets and shooting, scraping money together to develop and print. This was a man with a clear vocation and he found it early. From then on he was a photographer, working in editorial with a brief stint in advertising before devoting himself to his personal work.
The most interesting thing for me about his work is that he clearly doesn’t know why he is making it, he just is compelled to. Not only that, but he doesn’t care to know why he is compelled to make it, just that he is. When I was going through a bad patch in London I spoke to Gina Glover of Photofusion and she asked me “Do you have to take these pictures? If you do, then you will” It’s something that has stuck with me and drives me on when the pictures aren’t coming. When you watch Winogrand being interviewed it’s clear he has no interest in the lofty theory of what he is doing, saying time and time again that the only thing that is important are the pictures.
I love his New York street photography of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Sheer energy. Visceral and combative. Shots are presented at weird angles that are often used to squash as much into the frame as possible. There is enormous movement and people are clearly aware of his presence. This goes right to the heart of what I am trying to achieve. My work is directly related to my difficulties relating to people and I can feel it with Garry’s work too.
His most famous quote is ‘I take pictures to see what things look like photographed’ and I can really identify with that, as a designer I am fascinated by how we can use photography to capture a two dimensional copy of the real world and how that changes it, especially people.
He shot what he saw but it’s clear that that isn’t the whole story, failed relationships and a disorganised life must have coloured his shot selection and edits. In quotes he appears to be quite a pessimistic character but the people that knew him say differently, I think this contradiction is evident in his work which sometimes takes the form of visual jokes and jibes at the world.
The most astonishing part of Winogrand's story are the tens of thousands of unprocessed films and hundreds of thousands of unedited pictures. This is something that I cannot understand. For me the processing and editing are as important as the shooting, it’s all part of the story. When asked about his enormous backlog and chaos he said ‘I have no filing system, I’m helpless’.
However this doesn’t take away from his amazing achievements. He moved photography forward and created an aesthetic that at once looked casual but at the same time incredibly calculated and precise. His detractors used a term he hated - ‘Snapshot Aesthetic’ - but he argued that a snapshot was rigid and prescribed like a family photo. His work was fluid, always changing and moving. The narrative didn’t seem important to him, it was a moment captured between four edges. I am very sad I never got to meet him, I really think we would have got along famously.