The wide-angle street photography of Garry Winogrand

text: Taka Kawachi


“Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” ― Garry Winogrand

In his photography, Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) captured aspects of society from an extremely personal point of view, an approach also exemplified by Robert Frank. I once heard that Winogrand had no interest in photography that followed clean rules of composition, the kind that earned high acclaim in art circles. There is a connection, perhaps, to the fact that Winogrand’s photography brims with humanity—and with a somewhat cynical humor—while at the same time many of his images remain strangely difficult to decipher. However, the reason why his snapshots nonetheless lodge themselves into the memory of their viewers lies in the natural sharpness and deep wit which allowed Winogrand to express in single photographs things that many people were feeling or experiencing.

The street photography, to which Winogrand and his contemporary Lee Friedlander also devoted themselves, appear simple in nature but in truth are very difficult to create. Even considering the fact that photographers aim to take these kind of images, there are uncountable photographs that failed to capture such vision precisely. If we change our way of thinking here and approach the photographs with Winogrand’s aphorism “Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame” in mind, we may discover new impressions in the very same photographs. In other words, if you start to consider the real events that took place before the lens simply as material to be used for the composition of each respective photograph, then the photographs themselves appear to us in a new light…

For example, there is one photograph of Winogrand’s featuring a superb composition. The nose of an elephant extends into the frame from the left side, a person’s hand comes in from the right, as if to form a handshake with the elephant’s nose. Winogrand created a photograph with unexpectedly rich and interesting effects by capturing such an unannounced and random moment not within a conventional, “clean” composition but rather as if he were dealing with a situation he had carefully, laboriously staged. This is precisely where Winogrand saw the unique potential and strengths of his medium photography.

Garry Winogrand was born in New York in 1928. He began photographing when he belonged to the Air Force during the Second World War, then studying paintings and photography at college after discharge. At the New School For Social Research in New York, he studied photojournalism under Alexey Brodovitch, and began working as a freelance photographer, mainly for LIFE Magazine. Entering the 1960s, he began shooting from close range, equipped with a wide-angle lens on his compact camera. His highly original works were a major driving force of American street photography in the 1960s and ’70s
The cover of “The Animals” published 1969
© DR

Winogrand attached a wide-angle lens to his 35mm camera in order to capture as much as possible, and he photographed his subjects from point-blank range. He reassessed traditional ideas of seeing and composing photographs. With his brilliantly framed compositions of chance encounters lasting no longer than single moments, Winogrand paved the way for a new kind of street photography, once that dared to stray from reality a little bit.

Taka Kawachi

Benrido, Overseas Division Director

Taka Kawachi has extensive international experience, having graduated from the Academy of Art University of San Francisco, to then working in New York City as a book editor and curator for 15 years. Returning to Japan in 2011. In 2016, Kawachi published his first book “Art no Iriguchi (Entrance to the Arts) ”.His publications illustrate his experiences of art and photography, and offer readers an opportunity to engage with the history and subjects of both regions from his unique point of view. He is currently the Director of the Overseas Division of Kyoto’s Benrido, working to disseminate the classic and rare photographic process of Collotype, and produced portfolios of Saul Leiter and J.H. Lartigue, etc. His latest publication is “Artists: Masters of Architecture and Design” (Akatsuki Press).

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