Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable–a documentary as passionate as its subject
I enjoy going to art museums, but much of the time I find myself appreciating the art for its aesthetic qualities, not necessarily to understand what makes it “museum worthy.” I know my own tastes in terms of what I like or dislike, but other than the fact that a particular painting, sculpture, or photograph is installed in a museum, I lack the context or knowledge to make such a distinction myself. So I am often in an art museum wondering, “Why is this here?” with emphasis on a different word in the question depending on the particular piece of art.
What I loved about Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable is that it feels like a well-curated and explained museum exhibit. The documentary often takes the time to allow its interviewees to break down why an individual photograph taken by Winogrand is special. These explanations are fascinating, and underscore why Winogrand was a revolutionary artist in a way I wouldn’t have appreciated otherwise.
Beyond this, the film acts as a detailed retrospective in Winogrand’s career, giving an overview as well as a focus on specific projects and time periods. Winogrand’s ‘man on the street’ approach birthed dozens, if not hundreds, of iconic images, recognized in his time for their combination of technical mastery, artistic eye, and candid nature. Seeing them now, they give a better understanding to me of the past, and how the city of the early 1960s compares to today. It is a gauge for how much has changed and what remains the same. In many ways, Winogrand’s photographs will only become more important as time goes on as they blur the lines between the purposeful creation of art and the camera as an observational tool.
The other thing emphasized in Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable is the power that certain individuals wield in the art world. Similar to Clement Greenberg’s championing of Jackson Pollack, Winogrand had a similar advocate in John Szarkowsi, the curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art from 1962 to 1991. Szarkowsi helped shaped what we think of when we value “classic American black and white photography,” and his influence is still felt today. The curator had an outsized impact on Winogrand’s career, launching him to fame, then devaluing the work he did later in life.
Curation is also discussed in a different way, since a photographer acts as curator for their own work, choosing which shots to turn into prints, and which shots will never make it beyond the contact sheet. In his later years, Winogrand rarely processed or developed his film, which some in the documentary claim amounts to only being half an artist. How can a photographer change and grow without seeing the product of their camera?
Director Sasha Waters Freyer effortlessly weaves together these philosophical questions with an even handed approach to Winogrand’s career. The resulting film is as informative as it is entertaining, and gave me a deeper appreciation for the man’s work than wandering through a gallery of his photos.
Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.