Winogrand and Wall: Photography untidy and neat

SF Moma has a Garry Winogrand show up. The Bronx-born photographer is best known for capturing everyday life in candid, spur of the moment portraits. This photo (from the Met’s collection, not sure if it’s in the SF Moma show or not) is from the NYC nightclub El Morroco in 1955. The Met annotation describes W’s style aptly, “intuitive,” “street smart,” “direct.” I would add instantaneous to the mix, which perhaps relates to the photographer’s own gnomic remark on why he takes pictures, “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.” A given instant, an illusion. All at once and quickly over. Like short stories, his pix often leave you with a little stabbing twist at the end. NYTimes has a good preview of the show up. Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 8.01.44 AM

I learned about Winogrand by reading Arthur C. Danto’s (to me, somewhat soggy) book about Mapplethorpe from the era of the flap over “The Perfect Moment.” Danto compared Mapplethorpe to Winogrand to the latter’s disadvantage. (I think it was about formalism, which I always thought ruined a lot of Mapplethorpe’s work, but Danto, and many others, liked that aspect.)

In those days, I was also floored by the works of Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, who has a show up in Sydney (but one that I think started at NY’s MOMA). I first saw his big theatrical and backlit photographs at the Hirshhorn, where they took up an entire wall, and pulled you in, not like a short story, but like a big rich novel (one with strong art historical roots). MOMA put up an online exhibition, which doesn’t really give you a sense of the scale, or of the meticulous cinematographic preparation (casting, lighting, stage set, etc.) but is still worth checking out. Anything but a stolen moment of street life, captured in an instant, a la Winogrand. Wall’s shoots presumably take days, and the results, like Cindy Sherman’s work,  are panoramic slices of an epic movie. Virtuosic playing with time, which photography does to such bewildering and delightful cognitive effect.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 9.12.22 AM

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