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A Visit to Garry Winogrand’s Retrospective

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Metropolitan Opera, New York City, c. 1951 Posthumous print made from original negative on the occasion of the Garry Winogrand exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona

Garry Winogrand’s 25-year retrospective, currently on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., includes Winogrand’s iconic images of everyday Americans—New Yorkers out on the street, lone figures in busy airports, and eerie scenes of western suburbia. But about one-third of the show comes from Winogrand’s vast stockpile of unpublished work. Winogrand, who died suddenly at age 56, left behind 2,500 rolls of film that had never been developed and 6,500 rolls of film that had been developed but never made into contact sheets. At 36 frames per roll, that’s well over a quarter of a million images that Winogrand made but never looked at.

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All images by Garry Winogrand Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1958 [1957?], The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase All images © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
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Garry Winogrand, New York World’s Fair, 1964, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Dr. L.F. Peede, Jr.

Winogrand was a voracious shooter, always more interested in taking pictures than in editing them. Sometimes he waited to view the images intentionally, so that he could see them more objectively,

“If I was in a good mood when I was shooting one day, then developed the film right away, I might choose a picture because I remember how good I felt when I took it. You make better choices if you approach your contact sheets cold, separating the editing from the picture taking as much as possible.”

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Los Angeles, 1964 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel
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New York, c. 1969 Posthumous print made from original negative on the occasion of the Garry Winogrand exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona

If separating the shoot from the edit makes for a better selection of pictures, putting together a retrospective decades after the unprocessed rolls were shot should make for a spectacular exhibit.

Does it?

Nearly.

In one image that was printed posthumously, a woman’s lifeless body lies in a Los Angeles street while a Porsche glides by. As he does in his best work, Winogrand poses questions without positing any answers. But not all of the images printed posthumously are so compelling. I found myself skimming past many of the photographs that were developed and printed after Winogrand’s death and wishing the curators had cut the show down by a few dozen prints. Still, I got so sucked into the 200 or so remaining images—vivid, visceral portrayals of America teetering between tremendous success and terrible collapse—that I’m already planning my second visit to the show.

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Los Angeles, 1980-1983 Posthumous print made from original negative on the occasion of the Garry Winogrand exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona
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Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1980-1983, The Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona

The Garry Winogrand exhibit was curated by Leo Rubinfien and Sarah Greenough. It was organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The retrospective is on display now through June 8 at the National Gallery of Art. On June 27, the exhibit will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and run through September. It was previously shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


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