Garry Winogrand is one of the most important photographers at work in America today. His sophisticated snapshot-aesthetic pictures celebrate ordinary events, and transform them with precise timing and framing into astute visual commentaries on modern life.
Barbaralee Diamonstein: Garry, the New School is not unfamiliar ground to you. As I recall, you studied here for a short time in the early part of your career.
Garry Winogrand: Yes. It might have been 1949.
D: You began to photograph just at that period when you were less then twenty years old. How did it all begin?
W: Cameras intrigued me.
D: You started out studying painting, though, didn’t you?
W: Yeah, well, cameras always were seductive. And then a darkroom became available, and that’s when I stopped doing anything else.
D: How does a darkroom “become available”?
W: There was a camera club at Columbia, where I was taking a painting course. And when I went down, somebody showed me how to use the stuff. That’s all. I haven’t done anything else since then, It was as simple as that. I fell into the business.
D: You started out supporting yourself with commercial work — advertising photography and such things.
W: Yes, and magazine work, industrial work. I was a hired gun, more or less.
D: Why did you decide to give all that up?
W: I enjoyed it until I stopped. You could travel and get around. I can’t really explain why, I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
D: That wasn’t very long ago
W: Well, it was 1969 when I got out of it, more or less.
D: And then you turned to teaching, as well as your own work?
W: Well, it was strange, because the phone rang and a teaching job turned up that sounded interesting. And I always did my own work. The Animals and a lot of Public Relations were done while I was doing commercial work.
D: When you refer to Public Relations, you’re really talking about the title of a book that describes a very extensive body of material you started in 1969 on a Guggenheim Fellowship. During that period, you decided to photograph the effect of the media on events. And you studied ritual public events that very often were planned for the benefit of those who were recording them. What did you find out about that period, and what were you trying to tell us in your photographs?
W: I don’t think anything happens without the press, one way or the other. I think it’s all done for it. You saw it start, really, with Martin Luther King in Birmingham. He did the bus thing. And I don’t think anything that followed would have happened if the press hadn’t paid attention. As far as my end of it, photographing, goes, all I’m interested in is pictures, frankly. I went to events, and it would have been very easy to just illustrate that idea about the relationships between the press and the event, you know. But I felt that from my end, I should deal with the thing itself, which is the event. I pretty much functioned like the media itself.