I have long believed that many photographers work, influence and practice remains playing in the background at a volume that only a few can hear, influencing and informing a few but largely ignored by the photographic masses. Then an exhibition is staged such as this and the volume gets turned up. Suddenly the masses take notice.
Walking through the Jeu De Paume I couldn’t help myself from being constantly reminded of The Velvet Underground http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Velvet_Underground A band who had no concerns when it came to turning up the volume. Like the Velvet’s, Winogrand’s creative playground was the uptown streets of Manhatten in the Sixties and both seem to share a creative process in creating raw visual narratives of the city’s streets at that time .
Until 1971 Winograd mainly worked a narrow district between Macy’s Department Store and Central Park, creating a fluid visual language that paid scant regard for any traditionally accepted form of photographic technique or composition. The Velvet’s were hip, without trying to be and Winograd shot from the hip, instinctively but always with the knowledge of what the camera was seeing! Both stripped back their art forms to the most basic components, embraced blackness and used a simplistic rawness to create highly complex confined narratives filled with colliding images and discordant structures.
I have looked at Winograd’s images for many years but never before truly understood the architectural nature of their composition and repetitive use of visual devices that frame his confined narratives until now. The use of the non-aligned horizon, the bisecting horizontal element, the heavily blurred foreground shape, the use of architectural forms to frame his central subject and his habit of creating images that build from the left hand bottom corner of the frame. All become obvious when the images are bought together and hung in a continuous gallery wall narrative.
Winogrand is a voyeur, a documenter; his subjects are not participating with him but with the environments they are in, often in pairs, occasionally in three’s and sometimes alone. His images are emotional, pure evocations of movement and rapidity: a narrative in the process of being told. They are not the over produced, over saturated, over considered repetitions of the digital moment that have come to define so much street photography over the past few years.
Winogrand’s images reference Atget, Brassai and Walker Evans; they are from that tradition and it will be interesting to see if the increased volume of this exhibition influences others to re-consider the work they are currently making and to re-visit the work of these other photographers as well as of Winogrand.
The Sixties was Winogrand’s moment, his decade of relevance, just as it was for The Velvets. It was the decade in which he and they created there most important and unmannered work. Yet, the work and his process does not feel nostalgic, it feels current and relevant, as current and relevant as any Instagram photographer working today, as surely that is what Winograd was; an Instagram photographer for his age. His prodigious output is surely proof of this (leaving 6,600 unprocessed rolls of film at the time of his death at the age of fifty-six in 1984) as are his subject matter and creative process.
As the Seventies began The Velvets imploded and produced one last great album, Loaded, but in truth it was a Lou Reed album not a Velvet’s album. Winogrand’s work lost its energy and sense of movement, his subject matter remained the same but the delightful exuberance had gone. It was time for William Eggleston to take over Winograd’s mantle and document the hard, brash, excess and disfunction of the seventies with a more colourful eye.
Like an engineer remastering a classic album without those who made it being involved in the process this exhibition of Winograd’s work is not his interpretation of his work. Approximately four-fifths of the images being shown were never seen as processed images by him and he left no notes or instructions on how they should be edited or seen.
Despite this there can be no doubt that their is no reason to turn the volume down on Winogrand just yet, in fact just like The Velvets he is best seen at maximum volume.
The Velvet Underground: Black Angel Death Song
© Grant Scott 2014
You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new book Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form www.amazon.com and www.amazon.co.uk
You can view an interview with Garry Winograd here: http://unitednationsofphotography.com/2014/07/23/archive-video-garry-winnogrand-interview-1981/