The Garry Winogrand Problem (1988)
by Luuk van den Berg on Nov 13, 2020
Shooting inordinate amounts of film, Winogrand charted a vast, freebooting odyssey through three-and-a-half decades of American culture.
Written by Gerry Badger
This article was published on American Suburb X
In 1980, I attended the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery Annual Picnic and Softball Game, held in a small Beverley Hills Park. It was a fine late summer’s day, with temperatures in the thirties Celsius, and almost all West Coast photography was in languid attendance, dressed for the most part à la mode Californian – tank tops and satin running shorts were de rigueur. Darting in and out of this decidedly laid back gathering was a stocky, bespectacled figure wearing a heavy army combat jacket and two Leicas.
In contrast to the air of somnolent bonhomie, this figure was all business, shooting pictures incessantly, with quickfire movements of both self and cameras. That, I soon learned, was Garry Winogrand, the fastest gun in the West (and anywhere else, for that matter) – a man of manic energy who, when not engaged in taking photographs, talked just as rapidly, regaling his listener with a constant stream of New York Jewish oneliners and highly opinionated phototalk – the Phil Silvers of photography. Shooting inordinate amounts of film, Winogrand charted a vast, freebooting odyssey through three-and-a-half decades of American culture. He was a pervasive influence upon our understanding of the photographic medium and, potentially, of the culture he documented so assiduously.
At his death in March 1984, Winogrand left some 2,500 rolls of film unprocessed. When John Szarkowski of the Museum of Modern Art in New York came to plan a major Winogrand memorial exhibition, he and his colleagues were faced with the daunting task of sifting through in excess of 300,000 images left unedited by the photographer. Such unbridled profligacy prompts a question, and points to the existence of what one might term the ‘Winogrand Problem.’ For that matter, it perhaps raises uncomfortable questions about the problem of photography in general.
Garry Winogrand - 1964
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