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Garry Winogrand

American Photographer

Garry Winogrand Photo

Born: 1928

Died: 1984

"When I photograph I see life. That's what I deal with."

Garry Winogrand Signature

Summary of Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand's bizarre and visually compelling photographs of American life during the 1960s catapulted his status as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Throwing away the established traditions of Street Photography set forth by his predecessors, his photographs often appear haphazard, tilted, and poorly composed - what came to be called the 'snapshot aesthetic'. However, this unique aesthetic helped emphasize his subject matter, which challenged preconceptions of American society and the post-WWII optimism captured by commercial photography. His skewed and off-center images paradoxically united discordant elements into one composition, allowing the viewer to engage with his subjects in new and unusual ways. In so doing, Winogrand influenced an entire generation of photographers and artists to push the boundaries of what photography as a medium could be and what it could expose. Winogrand's prolific body of work is best known through the photo books he published.

Key Ideas

Rather than allowing the scenes he photographed to happen as he maintained a passive stance, as traditional street photographers had done, he intruded into his subject's physical space. This allowed him to startle and provoke his subjects as he shot them and thus to capture their startled and strange glances. For Winogrand, the photographs that most interested him were ones that both shocked himself as well as his audience. This resulted in images with a novel point of view that challenged viewers to question what photography's role was in American society, and what photography could reveal.
Known for walking down the streets of New York City snapping the shutter with the camera held ajar and far away from his eye, Winogrand intentionally broke the rules of composition - his images are frequently blurry cut off his subject's bodies. Deviating from the glossy, balanced compositions of his predecessors, Winogrand captured the unusual moments that radiated the tension and unease of life as it really was - messy, frenzied, and ill composed.
Winogrand's images exposed a raw truth of American society. Shunning the wholesome and optimistic images published in magazines and newspapers by his contemporaries, his cynical and startling images captured what he himself considered to be the truth of everyday life. The subtly of his social and political commentary in his images of the turbulent 1960s requires a close inspection of what precisely is the underlying truth depicted in his photographs. It is this aspect of Winogrand's outsider aesthetic that inspired the next generation of artists and photographers.
Garry Winogrand Photo

Garry Winogrand was born in 1928, and along with his sister, Stella, grew up in a Jewish, working-class neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City. His parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary and Poland in the hopes of having a better life in the United States, but then the Great Depression hit the country a year after Winogrand was born. His parents tried to make ends meet working in the garment industry- his father was a leather maker, while his mother made neckties. Not one to particularly concern himself with academics, Winogrand graduated from high school in 1946 and, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, entered into the United States Army, where he served for one year. After which he studied under the G.I. Bill at City College in New York City, but transferred to Columbia University to study painting the following year. It was at Columbia that a fellow student and photographer for the school paper showed Winogrand the school's dark room. Shortly after this introduction, he switched his major from painting to photography and never looked back.

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