Photography is not merely a reflection of reality but more like a witness to realism. All the technical manipulations used by computer imagery, turn-tables, biochromatic gum exposures are hopeless without photographable reality. Photography would be guilty of imposing an image of reality if it simply passed off reflections instead of visible achievements that captured a moment in time. Garry Winogrand adopted a straightforward method by walking around with a Leica 35mm camera and snapping photos quickly. His photography book, Women are Beautiful has recently attracted big collector enthusiasm.
Last year I attended an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum of almost 50 photographs that were culled from the museum’s permanent collection. The photos are drawn from Winogrand’s book titled Women are Beautiful, published in 1975 in both hardcover and soft cover editions. This first and only edition contains 85 photographic plates depicting women in defining moments with Winogrand’s characteristic technique of spontaneity and amateurism. In his introduction Winogrand notes, “Whenever I’ve seen an attractive woman, I’ve done my best to photograph her. I don’t know if all the women in the photographs are beautiful, but I do know that the women are beautiful in the photographs.”
No earthly beings have impacted him and his career as much as women that helped him emphasize the life of real people in un-posed photographs that capture a moment in time. He always carried his camera looking for the next big woman event that appeared in a momentary lapse without having to plan out any compositions in advance. He once joked that his photographs only took 1/250th of a second, in a reference to a common shutter speed of the average camera.
After the Denver Art Museum exhibit visit, I purchased a gently read, first edition, hardback issue of the book for $195. Not quite what one may consider a bargain but I felt then that it was worth the money and I also wanted a closer look of his work that portrays a form of storytelling collectively. The book was published by Farrar Straus and Giroux, in New York in 1975, and is usually available at a cheaper price in soft cover binding. Asking price has moved sharply higher since then, for either binding format and is currently selling twice as much as when I bought it six months ago.
In 1969, when Winogrand was awarded a second Guggenheim Fellowship, he began a project to prove that most news is made up news. His aim was to photograph the effect of the media on events such as parades, award ceremonies, protests, benefits, museum openings, press conferences, sports games, demonstrations and so forth. The project he called Public Relations was featured in a 1977 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York and a book was published to accompany the event that is considered to be the most critically acclaimed of all his work. Unlike Women are Beautiful that was only published once in 1975, Public Relations was reissued in 2004. First editions can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and they are currently cheaper than the corresponding Women are Beautiful copies.
Photography’s art form and technology is rich in content and varies from one photographer’s style and work to the next. From the dramatic landscapes of the American West by Ansel Adams to the cameraless snapshots of Man Ray, the spectrum of technique and craftsmanship is enormous. What sets Garry Winogrand apart is his simple street photography and spontaneity that manages to capture beauty the old fashion way of “point-and-shoot.” The result was a tremendous production, which at the time of his death in 1984, included thousands of rolls of undeveloped film and unpublished work containing even more of his favorite subject, regular women wearing regular clothes. A true work of beauty!