Garry Winogrand: Photographer of Postwar America on Exhibit


As one of the most prominent street photographers of postwar America, the Garry Winogrand retrospective opens June 27, 2014 through September 21, 2014, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though Winogrand’s work remains largely unexplored, this first retrospective pulls together the photographer’s most iconic images in 25 years. In addition, posthumous printed images from his archives, not been previously reproduced or exhibited, will be shown.

As a native New Yorker, Garry Winogrand first began working as a photographer while studying painting at Columbia University. When he briefly studied under Russian photographer, Alexey Brodovitch, he began contributing commercial photographs to magazines such as Life, Collier’s and Sports Illustrated.

Much of his best-known images were taken in Manhattan during the 1960s, but he has been attributed with becoming one of the primary influences of that eruptive period. He is often associated with his contemporaries Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus, and the upsurge of a new culture of photography spotlighted in the art world. John Szarkowski, Museum of Modern Art curator had even called him “the central photographer of his generation.”

Daily life in postwar America was abundant with opportunities, and Winogrand was a chronicler who captured that American life with amazing energy, exposing nearly 20,000 rolls of film in his lifetime. He photographed everything from celebrated actors and athletes to business magnates, rodeos, and antiwar demonstrators.  He, like American painter, Robert Rauschenberg, and other postwar artists, captured America’s wrenching swings between “optimism and upheaval” in the decades that followed the Second World War.winogrand


A keen traveler, Winogrand, wandered around the United States and photographed from California to Texas, Chicago, Florida and the Southwest. The photographer considered himself “a student of America.” He tracked the country’s temperament from postwar optimism to the chaos in the 1960s and post-Vietnam. His extensive collection of the United State’s changing social scene generated comparisons to the American poet-humanist Walt Whitman, who also “unspooled the world” in never-ending catalogues of people, places, and things.

Winogrand’s images were often crammed with 20 or more figures, dramatic foregrounds and more obscure incidents on the periphery. However, even when crowded with people or minimal but carefree, the New Yorker was fond of witticism and attracted to the ridiculous. His images also conveyed human isolation, and they implied something bleaker beneath the surface of the American dream.

Near the beginning of his career, there were critics who believed his photographs were strictly “random,” but conversely, there were admirers, and afterwards critics discovered a “unique poetry” in his skewed horizons and his appreciation of the haphazard. Nevertheless, while Winogrand has been widely believed to be one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, his complete body of work and his impact on the era remains ineffectively studied.

Extremely productive, the act of taking photographs for Winogrand was more fulfilling than making prints for exhibitions and books. The photographer died suddenly at the age of 56, and left behind approximately 6,500 rolls of film, translated to 250,000 images, that he had never seen. He also abandoned proof sheets from his earlier years, which had been marked but never printed.

Moreover, while he published five books over the course of his career, they represent only a snippet of his complete work and, therefore, do not remotely indicate the full extent of his significance at this date. Garry Winogrand retrospective delineates his photographic life that resembled the photographer’s postwar America, both ambitious and uncertain.

By Dawn Levesque

National Gallery of Art
San Francisco Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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