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
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