I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Garry Winogrand: Light On Surface

by Jason Forrest
May 6, 2011

Not many people know this, but I actually consider myself a photographer. That might sound strange to hear from someone who has spent the past 10 years jumping around on stage as a musician (not to mention that I’m co-Founder of Network Awesome) - but yes, My university degree is in Photography and I was also an art and photography critic for a little while too. In my second year of college I had a class with Phil Moody, a great photographer himself, and on the first day of class he made a slide show of photographers he thought were important. I guess I had never really understood Photography until that day because the power of the composed image really hit home, leaving an impression so deep that I find myself still compelled by the same work. I remember the slide flashing on the screen, exposing a photo by Garry Winogrand and I remember thinking at the time “that guy sucks”. Of course, I was wrong.

Garry Winogrand had a unique style. As you learn watching the documentary - he was a native New Yorker who spoke like a cabbie and had a restless energy that often belied his subtlety.  He was a part of a group of photographers who came of age in the 50’s and established their work in the 60’s. They were called the “Street Photographers” - and rightly so as they roamed the streets looking for good photos.

Notice that I don't say good images, or even good art.  No, these photographers were preoccupied with the nature of photographs. They broke down the conventions of what made a photograph “good” and in doing so they explored what was traditionally “bad”. Together with fellow artists like Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus, they continued the democratization of the subject developed by Walker Evans but also built on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment theory. Evans described his theory brilliantly in 1957 when he said: "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," he said. "Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”  [3]


But the Street Photographers developed a machine-gun version of Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, firing rapidly at their subjects to an effort to find a chain of moments they might not have even understood at the time. The documentary makes a big point out of this, and it’s surprising when Winogrand says: “There isn't a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability, any of them. They do not tell you stories, they show you what something looks like – to a camera”.

This is where the key concept of Winogrand’s work comes into view (and possibly why it was lost on my 19 year-old self): photography is not about the image - it is about the viewer. We, as viewers, go inside the photo and fill it with our own subjective existence. We can choose to connect to the sophistication of the compositional structures just as we have the possibility to attach the representations to our own subjective narrative that we build from the image. Or to go back to Duchamp – the viewer completes the image.


In a way Winogrand was also a super-traditional photographer, carrying on in the tradition of Weegie and the newspaperman beating the streets day in and day out. A major part of Winogrand’s work was just getting out there and finding this stuff. He says in the doc,  “The more I do is the more I do”. And lemme tell you, he did a lot, as you can see in one key scene where Winogrand collects his undeveloped film in a huge bag and locks them away. He was constantly taking pictures and had a prodigious output. His first wife told one curator "Being married to Garry was like being married to a lens”. [3] Upon his premature death of gall bladder cancer in 1984 at age 56, he left behind nearly 300,000 unedited images and more than 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film.

But despite all the photographic theory, there is also a humanity that colors Winogrand’s work. His collections of animal photos from the Bronx Zoo wonderfully capture his sense of playfulness, while his 1975 book “Women Are Beautiful” shows the fairer sex in the elucidation of attraction, style, and activity in an era of transition. [4]

Everything is literally right there in Winogrand’s photos – he made it his job to collect so many wonderful places, people and ideas, and we are the ones who clearly benefit. He said, “I like to think of photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium, by letting it do what it does best, describe. And respect for the subject, by describing as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both."






Jason Forrest is CEO and Creative Director of Network Awesome. He's been an electronic musician for over 11 years and has traveled almost everywhere in the world.  He invented and developed the iOS app Star6 and aided in the development of both Buddha Machine apps. In addition to that he runs 2 record labels, Nightshifters and Cock Rock Disco - so he's a busy guy.  His new album "The Everything" was released in April 2010 on Staatsakt. Grab it here and Follow him on Facebook here and contact him via the Network Awesome About page!