Winogrand street photographer
one of the best!
IN THE STREET PICTURES of the early sixties Winogrand began to develop two pictorial strategies that he found suggested in certain pictures in Frank’s The Americans. The first of these related to unexplored possibilities of the wide-angle lens on the hand camera. The conventional conception of the wide-angle lens saw it as a tool that included more of the potential subject from a given vantage point; most photographers would not use it unless their backs were literally against the wall. Winogrand learned to use it as a way of including what he wanted from a closer vantage point, from which he could photograph an entire pedestrian (for example) from a distance at which we normally focus only on faces. From this intimate distance the shoes of the subject are seen from above, its face straight-on, or even a little from below, and the whole of the figure is drawn with an unfamiliar, unsettling complexity.
Winogrand was uninterested in making pictures that he knew would succeed, and one might guess that in the last twenty years of his life, excepting his commercial work, he never made an exposure that he was confident would satisfy him. The most widely quoted summation of his position is surely his remark that he photographed in order to see what the things that interested him looked like as photographs. Like many of Winogrand’s epigrams, this one seemed designed to infuriate the guardians of conventional photographic wisdom. On the surface it would seem to mean precisely the opposite of what Edward Weston meant when he said he wished to previsualize his finished print in every detail and tonality before he released the shutter. It should be noted however that Winogrand’s remark defines a motive and Weston’s a goal. It should also be understood that Weston defines a goal which, once attained, would be useless. An artist of Weston’s restless, vaulting ambition could not have kept himself amused by manufacturing perfect replicas of pictures that were already perfectly finished in his head, and that could not reward him with surprise, or the thrill of success after doubt. Weston’s statement and Winogrand’s express a shared fascination, central to the work of each, in the difference between photographs and the world they describe, and in the possibility that the former may nevertheless, if good enough, tell us something important about the latter.