If a person is passionate about photography, there is one main requirement, a strong desire to always search for that one instance of harmony. A definition is in order, a question arises. It is a photographic question of harmony. It is a balance of elements: light, seeing, subject, exposure, timing, and anticipation. Photographers find a subject and sometimes shoot them incessantly. These are sometimes known as pictorial essays. Garry Winogrand, a wanderer across the American Landscape, covered the streets from the East Coast to the West. His photographic energy was devoted to using photons and waves of light to express the ambiguity a photograph could possess.
It is not possible to lecture, teach or instruct others on how to use light to best advantage. How a person uses the light available to them will be the product of their images. Winogrand, a consummate recorder of vagueness, was not concerned with light as part of the photograph as Ansel Adams or Brett Weston constantly strived for in their illuminating way. No, he beat back inquiries from interviewers who insisted his images told a story with an enigmatic response, “They do not tell stories–they show you what something looks like, to a camera.”
The current Garry Winogrand Photographic Exhibit of his work on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art June 27–Sept. 21, 2014, is in direct contrast to his quote. Early morning and late afternoon light are the best instances of using light to best advantage. Morning light is cool, soft, clear, without deep shadow, rendering an image with depth and clarity. Late afternoon light is warm, soft, inviting, without harsh contrast between light and dark, rendering an image of shallow clearness focused one area providing intimacy with the viewer. He did not wait for the light, he did not arrange the setting into a favorable light condition. He shot what he saw when he saw it, and the light had better be there. Winogrand’s energy for photography did not care if the photons of light were also defined as a wave, it just needed to be the correct exposure.
He wandered America from New York to Los Angeles and back again, shooting every mile striving always to insert an uncertainty into his images. His attempt was to not give the viewer a story but for them to use the image as a stepping stone into their own imagining world of what he meant and why he shot. He shot whatever captured his eye at the moment and moved on. His passion was for the moment. Find that one inexplicable moment in this life parade, shoot it and find another moment. He died in 1983 with 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film, and 4,100 contact sheets that were not edited.
His passion for shooting was the juice in his veins, not blood. Seeing the image was the only important factor, everything else was secondary. Anyone can march down the street and record images of the parade, it requires someone with an expressive heart, and an idea of what the parade means to them, to reach outside the boundaries of their life and find those images that portray a parade as a meaningful event. That is seeing. Winogrand had it.
Subject, some might say, is the most important element. There is belief that all elements are equally important; Light, seeing, subject, exposure, timing, and anticipation. When this is the case the image will convey how much passion the photographer imbued his images with by sheer force of effort. It is arguable that Ansel Adams images are not passionate, but formal, stiff, well exposed recorded images of the landscape. Winogrand, on the other side of this image, does not always have the best exposure, or the best light, his images evoke a passion for the subject matter, a passion for including the elements that will stir the viewer in some way, either negatively or positively, it does not matter. His images punch the viewer, wake them up, and they close his books or walk out of a gallery out of breath.
Winogrand came to be an icon of street photography who is still emulated, by constantly being there, on the street, at the beach, in the airport, at the rodeo, a spontaneous commitment to the photographic language of, shoot it now. Winogrand was one of the pioneers of mid-20th century street photographers. Light is a wave and it is also photon particles, an energy that enables film or electronic mediums to record photographic images. Winogrand’s admirers are most grateful for this scientific realization.
Opinion by Andy Towle