The first retrospective in 25 years of work by artist Garry Winogrand (1928–1984)—the renowned photographer of New York City and of American life from the 1950s through the early 1980s—will debut at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from March 9 through June 2, 2013. Jointly organized by SFMOMA and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Garry Winogrand brings together the artist’s most iconic images with newly printed photographs from his largely unexamined archive of late work, offering a rigorous overview of Winogrand’s complete working life and revealing for the first time the full sweep of his career.
More than 300 photographs in the exhibition and more than 400 in the accompanying catalogue will create a vivid portrait of the artist—a chronicler of postwar America on a par with such figures as Norman Mailer and Robert Rauschenberg who unflinchingly captured America’s wrenching swings between optimism and upheaval in the decades following World War II.
The exhibition has been conceived and guest-curated by photographer and author Leo Rubinfien with Erin O’Toole, assistant curator of photography at SFMOMA, and Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art.
While Winogrand is widely considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, his overall body of work and influence on the field remains incompletely explored. He was enormously prolific but largely postponed the editing and printing of his work. Dying suddenly at the age of 56, he left behind approximately 6,500 rolls of film (some 250,000 images) that he had never seen, as well as proof sheets from his earlier years that he had marked but never printed. Roughly half of the photographs in the exhibition have never been exhibited or published until now; over 100 have never before been printed.
“There exists in photography no other body of work of comparable size or quality that is so editorially unresolved,” says Rubinfien, who was among the youngest of Winogrand’s circle of friends in the 1970s. “This exhibition represents the first effort to comprehensively examine Winogrand’s unfinished work. It also aims to turn the presentation of his work away from topical editing and toward a freer organization that is faithful to his art’s essential spirit, thus enabling a new understanding of his oeuvre, even for those who think they know him.”
The exhibition is divided into three parts, each covering a broad variety of subjects found in Winogrand’s art. “Down from the Bronx” presents photographs taken for the most part in New York from his start in 1950 until 1971; “A Student of America” looks at work made in the same period during journeys outside New York; and “Boom and Bust” addresses Winogrand’s late period—from when he moved away from New York in 1971 until his death in 1984—with photographs from Texas and Southern California, as well as Chicago, Washington, Miami, and other locations. This third section also includes a small number of photographs Winogrand made on trips back to Manhattan, which express a sense of desolation unprecedented in his earlier work.
Winogrand was known as great talker with a flamboyant, forceful personality, and what he said accompanying his slide shows and lectures was often imaginative and very funny. A number of videos edited for presentation in the exhibition will allow visitors to experience the living Winogrand as audiences have rarely been able to do for 30-odd years. A short selection from Winogrand’s experimental 8mm footage taken in the late 1960s will also be on view.
After premiering at SFMOMA in spring 2013 Garry Winogrand will travel to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (March 2 through June 8, 2014); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (June 27 through September 21, 2014); the Jeu de Paume, Paris (October 14, 2014 through January 25, 2015); and the Fundacion MAPFRE, Madrid (March 3 through May 10, 2015).
An Epic Chronicler of Postwar America
Born in the Bronx, Winogrand did much of his best-known work in Manhattan during the 1960s, and in both the content of his photographs and his artistic style he became one of the principal voices of that eruptive decade—so much so that influential Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski anointed him “the central photographer of his generation.”
Known primarily as a street photographer, Winogrand, who is often associated with famed contemporaries Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, photographed with dazzling energy and incessant appetite, exposing some 20,000 rolls of film in his short lifetime. He photographed business moguls, everyday women on the street, famous actors and athletes, hippies, rodeos, politicians, soldiers, animals in zoos, car culture, airports, and antiwar demonstrators and the construction workers who beat them bloody in view of the unmoved police. Daily life in postwar America—rich with new possibility and yet equally anxious, threatening to spin out of control—seemed to unfold for him in a continuous stream.
Yet if Winogrand was one of New York City’s prime photographers, he was also an avid traveler who roamed widely around the United States, bringing exquisite work out of locations that included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ohio, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Colorado, and the open country of the Southwest. “You could say that I am a student of photography,” he said, “and I am; but really I’m a student of America.” Winogrand’s expansive visual catalogue of the nation’s evolving social scene has led to comparisons to Walt Whitman, who also unspooled the world in endless lists of people, places, and things.
Winogrand’s pictures often bulge with twenty or thirty figures, and are fascinating both for their dramatic foregrounds and the sub-events at their edges. Even when crowded with people or at their most lighthearted—he was fond of visual puns and was drawn to the absurd—his pictures can convey a feeling of human isolation, hinting at something darker beneath the veneer of the American dream. Early on, some critics considered his pictures formally “shapeless” and “random,” but admirers and critics later found a unique poetry in his tilted horizons and his love of the haphazard.
“Winogrand was an artistic descendant of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, but differed sharply from them,” says Rubinfien. “He admired Frank’s The Americans, but felt the work missed the main story of its time, which in his mind was the emergence of suburban prosperity and isolation. The hope and buoyancy of middle-class life in postwar America is half of the emotional heart of Winogrand’s work. The other half is a sense of undoing. The tension between these qualities gives his work its distinct character.”
After serving in the military as a weather forecaster, Winogrand first began working as a photographer while studying painting on the G.I. Bill at Columbia University (1948–51). During that time, he also studied briefly with Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research. While pursuing his personal work, he began supplying commercial photographs to a number of general-interest magazines such as Life, Look, Sports Illustrated, Collier’s, and Pageant, which were then at the height of their power and reach. His career was further shaped by the decline of those magazines and the rise of a new culture of photography centered in the art world.
“Winogrand worked at a moment when the boundaries between journalistic and artistic photography were less certain than they had ever been, yet it was also a time when the most advanced photographers were consciously abandoning journalistic values,” says Greenough. “The social landscape he photographed—the dislocation of urban life, the rise of the suburb with its growing alienation, the skepticism of youth, and the collusion of the press and the powerful—was of concern to many Americans. Yet Winogrand rarely pursued an obvious means to explicate these ideas, preferring poetic evocation over intelligible journalism.”
Winogrand went on to exhibit widely at prominent museums and achieved renown in his lifetime. Yet despite this recognition, he is perhaps the most inadequately understood of all his contemporaries.
“Unfinished” Late Work Thoroughly Investigated for the First Time
The act of taking pictures was far more fulfilling to Winogrand than making prints or editing for books and exhibitions—he often allowed others to perform these tasks for him. Near the end of his life, he spoke of reviewing and reediting all of his photographs, but never had a chance to oversee the shaping of his legacy, or even to review much of the output of his later years. Because of his working methods and his lack of interest in developing his film toward the end of his life, he left behind more than 2,500 rolls of exposed but undeveloped film, an additional 4,100 rolls that he had processed but never seen—an estimated total of 250,000 images that have remained virtually unknown.
Furthermore, Winogrand published just five modest books during his lifetime—The Animals (1969), Women Are Beautiful (1975), Garry Winogrand (1976), Public Relations (1977), and Stock Photographs (1980)—that represent only a fraction of his work and are mainly confined to narrow topical frames that don’t suggest the full scope of his importance.
“One reason that Winogrand is only now receiving the full retrospective treatment already devoted to peers of his era, including Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Robert Frank, is that any truly comprehensive consideration of his life’s work requires contending with the practical and ethical issues surrounding the vast archive he left behind,” says O’Toole. “In the absence of explicit instructions from him regarding how he wanted his work to be handled after he was gone, its posthumous treatment has been the subject of ongoing debate and raises provocative questions about the creative process and its relationship to issues specific to the medium.”
“Some argue that what was left behind should be left alone, and that no one should intrude upon the intentions of an artist,” adds Rubinfien. “But the quantity of Winogrand’s output, the incompleteness with which he reviewed it, and the suddenness of his death create a special case in which the true scope of an eminent photographer’s work cannot be known without the intervention of an editor.”
Now housed at the Center for Creative Photography of the University of Arizona, Tucson, Winogrand’s “unfinished” work was initially organized in the years just after his death by several colleagues and friends in preparation for the artist’s first major museum retrospective, held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA) in 1988. Exhibition curator John Szarkowski felt the quality of Winogrand’s work had significantly deteriorated in the last 15 years of his life, and included only a small group of pictures from the mysterious late work in MoMA exhibition.
Nearly 30 years have elapsed since the last attempt to grapple with the complete arc of Winogrand’s career. Benefiting from new curatorial research undertaken for this project, the current exhibition will provide a long-awaited reevaluation of his accomplishments. As one of the first museums to recognize photography as a legitimate art form, SFMOMA has collaborated with the National Gallery of Art—who, like SFMOMA, is known for its photography scholarship— in a multi-year endeavor to spearhead the presentation of this important exhibition and publication.
An Art-Historical Contribution
The exhibition catalogue Garry Winogrand (448 pages; $85 hardcover; $50 softcover)—published by SFMOMA in association with Yale University Press—will serve as the most comprehensive volume on Winogrand to date and the only compendium of the artist’s work. Five new essays and nearly 400 plates trace the artist’s working methods, major themes, and create a collective portrait of Winogrand.
Leo Rubinfien provides an extensive overview of Winogrand’s life and career. Erin O’Toole, assistant curator of photography at SFMOMA, considers the Winogrand archive at the Center for Creative Photography and matters relating to the ethics of posthumous printing of the artist’s work; she also writes introductions to each of the three main plate sections. Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, considers the magazine culture that gave birth to Winogrand’s early work and the emergence of the museum context that fostered his ideas in the 1960s. Sandra S. Phillips, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA, writes about Winogrand’s relevance for contemporary photography. Tod Papageorge, professor of art at Yale University and Winogrand’s intimate friend, protégé, and sometime editor, writes of his early years in New York when he met Winogrand and became one of his closest friends. And Susan Kismaric, former curator in the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, offers a selected bibliography, full chronology, and annotated checklist that enables the reader to tell who among Winogrand’s various editors has been responsible for the selection of any photograph, and when.
Garry Winogrand is co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Leadership support for the presentation at SFMOMA is provided by Randi and Bob Fisher. The international tour of the exhibition is sponsored by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Major support for the presentation at SFMOMA is provided by The Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Bernard Osher Foundation. Generous support is provided by Linda and Jon Gruber. Additional support is provided by The Black Dog Private Foundation, the George Frederick Jewett Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and Kate and Wes Mitchell.