The Street Photography of Garry Winogrand

  By John Veldhoen

Garry Winogrand is the preeminent practitioner of what has become known as the genre of street photography, which he’d probably resent the heck out of my writing. In an interview in 1981, when questioned about the term street photography, Winogrand referred to it as “a stupidity”. Geoff Dyer is a writer, primarily a novelist, though he is a fine critic. In 2013, Dyer spoke about how the line between fiction and non-fiction is a blurry one, “I think the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is less about “Did it really happen or was it made up?” than it is about form.” For a little while, I think writing like that was called “metafiction” or “fabulism”. Winogrand was right, people do try to come up with labels for things. So, Dyer and Winogrand are nicely paired in this new book, “The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand”. That there hasn’t been a Winogrand monograph in print for so long now is something of a travesty, so that alone made this publication notable, but for the last while it would be nice to read less discursive writing about photography, and as a literary performance more than a few out of the hundred essays in this book shine.

On plate number two, a photo of a mid-century Manhattan street scene taken with an uncharacteristically long lens, Dyer writes about the march of time, and the hundreds of potential photographs, and intones the epigraph “Et in Arcadia ego”, which led me to Erwin Panofsky’s utterly wonderful art-history essay on a series of paintings by Nicholas Poussin. Time tells and thinking of Winogrand’s photography (maybe all photographs) similarly as mementos is not too far from the larger truth. Dyer takes Winogrand‘s lust for life positively, which I think is an honest critical position regarding the intention of Winogrand’s work.

I heard a comment that this book should not be a book including so much writing, later  the commentator asked “who cares about writing in a picture book”? This is probably not the book for them. Dyer makes reference to D.H. Lawrence’s idea of an “allotropic state”,  or “another ego” that motivates creative action, demonstrating in a roundabout way how writing has value alongside photographs, at least as a reaction. Even those photographs by Garry Winogrand, who was firmly against searching for additional meaning in photos, even those photos deserve thinking about, and feeling about. Writing about the tenth picture in this book, Dyer relays how Winogrand was influenced by a picture by Robert Frank, in a talk in 1970, Winogrand said: “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed”. Which cautions me from writing too much more about the photographer most opposed to the system under the sun. I bought a copy of this book, and I am happy to have it in my collection. It is not my only book of photographs by Winogrand, but I liked Dyer’s writing so much, it is worth it.

John Veldhoen

John Veldhoen

In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.