Sunday, March 23, 2014

Garry Winogrand

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through June 8, 2014

Garry Winogrand was a photographer who captured the post World War II American world, the propserity of the 1950s, the tumult of the 1960s and the disintegration of the 1970s.  As the wall notes say, Winogrand documented a "country that glitters with possibility, but that threatens to spin out of control."  Starting with a few streets in Manhattan, Winogrand expanded his focus to other parts of America.  He moved from the glamorous world of 1950s downtown to the decay of 1970s urban sprawl.

In all of his photographs, you get the sense that there's more to the story than meets the eye.  If you took any of this pictures, showed them to 100 people and asked, "What's going on here?" you'd get 100 different answers.  Even the photos that appear obvious at first, reveal depth if you look a bit longer.  Although he worked as a photojournalist, I think Winogrand was the opposite of a journalist.  Rather than answer our questions, he prompts us to ask more.  He shows us there is a story, but he doesn't tell us what it is.  This is probably best exemplified by Aquarena Springs, San Marcos, Texas in which a woman is swimming with a pig.  Is this something that happens all the time in Texas?  Is it only my narrow experience that causes me to view this with surprise?  If this is out of the ordinary, what has led to this situation?  Would any pig go for a dip in the family pool, if only they were given the chance?

Winogrand's style reminded of no other photographer, really of no other artist.  The only time I thought of another show was looking at El Morocco, New York (1955) in which a man and woman are dancing in a nightclub.  The woman is laughing, with her teeth bared.  She looked almost vampiric, as if she's about to bite the man's neck.  I was reminded of the Munch show at the National Gallery (was it last year?) and the piece with the woman poised over the man.

There was a photograph that I had seen before and recognized right away.  It's called Albuquerque and features a small child in a driveway, with an overturned tricycle and an ominous skyline.  I had to do some digging online to figure it out, but it was in the "Democracy of Images" show at the American Art Museum, not long ago.  Kudos to me for remembering it!

I liked the first room, of his early New York work, the best.  I thought the photographs were the most interesting overall.  The ones from the 1970s were so depressing that after a while, I stopped seeing them as individual images.  They tended to blend together in one miserable whole.  Note that Winogrand stopped developing his pictures, as he became more interested in taking the photos, rather than working with them later.  Those from the 1970s have been developed by others - could that be why they don't appeal so much?
Verdict: If you like photography, or post-war American middle class life, this is a show not to be missed.  Allow plenty of time, as there are over 100 images.

No comments:

Post a Comment