“Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” – Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand “street” photographer

Garry Winogrand’s interest in photography began while he was serving in the military at weather forecaster. He learned how to develop and print photographs during his painting studies at City College and Columbia University in 1947 through 1951. After school, he studied photography with Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexy Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research. He was a photojournalist working for magazines and as an advertising photographer. During the 60s he created his unusual style of “street” photography. He used a wide-angle lens on a Leica M4 35mm camera. His work made him something of a cult figure. His personal work was mainly on the street where he pictured people with an “immediacy and physicality rarely encounter in still imagery.”*

Garry Winogrand the street photographer of his generation
Garry Winogrand by Jonathan Brand

Documentarian of the “social landscape”

Winogrand’s personal work encompassed pedestrians, demonstrations and protests, rodeos, zoo animals, opening and dance. The results earned him many exhibitions notably in Edward Steichen‘s The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art. He also showed at George Eastman House and again at MOMA with New Documents. He is considered, along with photographers Lee Friedlander, Duane Michaels and Danny Lyons as part of a group who were social documentarians.

Three Guggenheim fellowships

Winogrand was awarded the fellowships to make “photographic studies of American life” and to consider “the effect of media on events.” Winogrand’s photographs are crammed with his fascination with public behavior — there is a lot going on in the photos. He did not go for the “decisive moment” of Henri Cartier-Bresson. His work shows many interpretations and viewpoints to the point that they might bc considered snapshots. According to the Times’ obituary “…but they contain an almost subliminal order beneath their surface toat testifies to the visual intelligence of their maker.”

MoMA’s director of photography, John Szarkowski, called Gary Winogrand “the central photographer of his generation.”

In his own words

These quotes from Garry Winogrand sum up how he saw and rendered his world photographically. He explains that “Every photograph is a battle of form versus content.” His comments on storytelling — “Photos have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface” and “There is no special way a photograph should look.” He continues saying, “A photograph can look any way.”

On his photographic process, he noted, “You see something happening and you bang away at it. Either you get what you saw or you get something else – and whichever is better you print.” He expands on this by describing what he sees while looking through a camera — “If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.”


Garry Winogrand published four books: “The Animals” (1969) “Women are Beautiful” (1975) “Public Relations” (1977) and “Stock Photographs” (1980).

Capturing reality

“For me the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film… if, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better.”


Read more mini-biographies of influential photographers on Photofocus.

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