«The only thing that’s difficult is reloading when things are happening» he declared. When Winogrand died in Mexico in 1984, he left three ex-wives, four limited edition portfolios, his beloved Leica M4, more than 2500 film rolls that had been exposed but not developed, 6500 developed rolls that he had not yet made contact sheets for, and some 3000 more rolls, already on contact sheets, but unreviewed.
Winogrand had the freshness of the great artists, the lack of affectation of the masters and the curiosity of a child. Born and raised in the Bronx, in 1948 he enrolled at Colombia University although his first contact with photo-journalism occurred in 1949 at Alexey Brodovitch’s famous design classes at the New School. Like Friedlander and Arbus, he was educated by the designer in astonish me aesthetics. The work of Walker Evans and Robert Frank had a fundamental influence on his particular gaze.
Edward Steichen, the then director of the photography department at the MoMA, included two of his works in the famous The Family Of Man exhibition, with over 270 photographs on display and which far exceeded the public’s expectations, and later in Seventy Photographers Look at New York(1957-1958).
John Szarkowski‘s clear vision (a key figure in the consideration of photography as an art form, and not merely a useful method of documenting reality), would lead him to feature him in various exhibitions. First in Five Unrelated Photographers (1963) and afterwards in The Photographer’s Eye(1964) where photography was examined as an art form and as a means of communication and memory, in order to conclude that the photographer’s gaze was absolutely essential.
Szarkowski, on presenting Garry Winogrand together wih Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus at the MoMA in the New Documents exhibition, gave prominence to a new photographer whose goal was both personal and intimate: «their aim has been not to reform life but rather to know it». They were the new documentary makers.
However, before New Documents, Nathan Lyons, the curator of the George Eastman House in Rochester, had already included him together with Friedlander in the exhibition Towards a Social Landscape(1966) today believed to be the inspiration for New Documents.
Zoos fascinated him and gave rise to the series The Animals (1969) where we are offered an ironic depiction of an environment full of caged animals, and of human beings also enclosed in an area to observe them. The emblematic image World’s Fair, New York, 1964, corresponds to Women are beautiful (1975) and presents several young women chatting to one another on a bench, observing their surroundings.
Winogrand investigated. He was not interested in photographs that he could recognize, he needed to find «the others». Legend has it that he would go out onto the streets every day with his Leica, a wide-angle lens, and ten rolls of Tri-X. His particular type of frame (skewed, offering an alternative axis to the horizontal) and his command of the wide-angle lens means that the compositions of his photographs are highly precise, with everything making sense and having a specific purpose. He was known as the prince of the streets and would return home with New York in his pockets.