Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Woman in the Crowd: A study of women in the street photography of Garry Winogrand and their position within the social and urban landscape of New York city

In the work of Garry Winogrand, the streets of New York and the women in them feature strongly. I wish to explore, aside for the obvious physical attraction, what it is about these women that attracted Winogrand’s attention. How do these women respond to their surroundings – does it engulf or empower them? What is it about the urban crowd and by extension, the urban street that enables women to feel both anonymous and exposed? By examining the photographer’s work method, I hope to uncover why exactly these two subjects were often favoured by Winogrand. 

 Garry Winogrand. Image Source: youthvoice.net

In order to gain a deeper appreciation and grasp on the impact urban design can have on people’s, and more specifically in this case, women’s behaviour in the public realm I have looked further back to the 19th century to a time when the modern city as we know it was in its early stages of conception and women had been given a newfound leash of freedom in society. The studies of Elizabeth Wilson in particular offer us an idea of how women’s role in the city has developed since this period and how their public persona has altered in an effort to adjust. By doing this I hope to unlock a new understanding on the work of Winogrand and his series of images in which women are the primary subject. This in turn may help us to identify what it was about a partiuclar moment which merited his attention. 

Finally I will look at ‘street photography’ and the understanding of the term in a contemporary sense. I am interested in discovering how this type of photography has developed over the years and also the varying approaches other well known photographers, in particular fashion photographers (some contemporaries of Winogrand), have taken towards it. 

New York City Street Map 1970s

Garry Winogrand’s Photographic Process

After a brief suffocating time spent in the army (Stack, 2002), Winogrand found his breath again in the streets. However, perhaps, unbeknownst to him, his time in the army may have equipped him with the skills necessary to capture his subject of desire in the high octane streets of New York. At a time when war photography allowed the world to witness events direct from the field, Winogrand had an approach not too unsimilar. He was fearless, and dove straight in to the action.

Winogrand’s shooting style mimicked the fast pace of the city. It was relentless; the shooting, the processing, his eye forever editing as he waded through the streets in search of life to transform into an image. Winogrand played with the limits of his hand-held Leica, pushing his Tri-X film to ISO 1200 and higher so he could shoot a 1/1000 second shutter speed at f/16 (Moloney, 2010).These settings were essential in ensuring that he would never missed a second.

He was fascinated by what could “happen in a frame... the transformation of when you put four edges around a bunch of facts...” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). Winogrand was known to shoot a roll across almost every city block he crossed. As a result, he was forever behind on processing these images he so energetically scoured the streets for. Winogrand’s Leica was rarely laid to rest, so much so that he is said to have left behind 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film and 300,000 unedited images at his death in 1984 (Aesthetica, 2013). Often he wouldn’t hold an image in his hand until almost two years after he’d shot it. This tardiness would I’m sure madden some photographers and indeed would never work in a commercial setting but it allowed him to forget the moment as he had shot it. The final image once produced would therefore recall in his mind not only the reason he had first captured the moment but also many others surprises that had initially gone unnoticed.

It is the frame which puts order and a moment of stillness on a complex moment of encounters that only a city street could offer. The relationship between, woman and man to the crowd by which they are surrounded and in turn the relationship of that crowd to the street, building and thus the extended city can be appreciated and examined once captured in film. Winogrand captures life when he shoots and then gains a deeper understanding of it once it has been processed... “I don’t see photographs when I photograph, I only see life.” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979).When asked if his work is about capturing a moment in time, he replied, “They’re about stillness. I use a watch when I want to know the time”(Winogrand, ICP, 1979). Many of the people in these images are often rushing or pushing through the crowd but it not until they are frozen in motion that we can appreciate the moment as Winogrand had seen it; almost as though his eye was capable of seeing at the quickest of shutter speeds.

“I think that there isn’t a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability. Any of ‘em. They do not tell stories—they show you what something looks like… . The minute you relate this thing to what was photographed—it’s a lie. It’s two-dimensional. It’s the illusion of literal description. The thing has to be complete in the frame, whether you have the narrative information or not. It has to be complete in the frame. It’s a picture problem. It’s part of what makes things interesting.”
Winogrand, WNET, 1982

Winogrand may have created a demanding, high momentum regime for himself but his work defies this very process. It captures life that can so easily get lost in the throngs of people that fill New York’s streets. It offers a sense of identity to the individual who has become anonymous in the crowd.

Winogrand and the Crowd

Winogrand had grown up in the Bronx, a place where peoples’ lives spill out of their homes and on to the street; it was a mere extension of their own private realm (Stack, 2002). However, for Winogrand, it seems that this simply meant he was at ease there, amongst the throngs of people. From these people however, he wished to maintain an emotional distance. He often stated that he had never shared so much as a word with the people he photographed (Winogrand, ICP, 1979).

The nature of Winogrand’s work required him to be quite close physically to his subject. Hardly anyone ever knew they had become a Garry Winogrand photograph. On occasion however, when his well-mastered guise of going unnoticed failed him, he was known to be very skilful at charming his subject. (Garza, 2007).

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s

A women has noticed Winogrand’s lens pointing in her direction and has appears flattered. Her body forms a vertical point of reference in the image. 

Perhaps this was an approach he adopted in the hope that he could lure his subject back to their stance when they were blissfully unaware of his camera’s lens pointing in their direction. On the other hand, this approach could be a defence mechanism against the defiant attitude common in New Yorkers. The urban crowd puts the individual in contact with many hazardous activities and one must keep one’s guard up and remain alert. In a rare case, when his subjects were not offended by Winogrand’s attention, the beauty of a particular image was in the very fact that his subject was keenly aware of his presence. The sense of flattery awoken in these people creates a moment of sheer bliss which can be read in both their face and posture.

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s

Winogrand’s reflection in the shop window ensures us that the subject is aware of his presense. She seems unphased. Her figure appears to be the only vertical in the frame

In a constant state of flux, the street fueled and encouraged Winogrand’s energy. He would jump, duck, run through traffic, as though the people and cars were an obstacle course, in the way of his target. He even had special ‘moves’ he had developed in an attempt to get around people... “you should see my turnaround jumper!” (Stack, 2002). The momentum of the crowds, although an obstacle, were intrinsic to shooting his target. In particular, Winogrand seemed captivated by women, “Women interest me – how they look, yes certainly how they look, and their energy” (Winogrand, WNET, 1982). The only book ever he edited entirely himself, ‘Women and Beautiful’, was dedicated to this subject.

Women and Winogrand

Women of 1960s New York had discovered sexuality and a newfound sense of independence, and were embracing it: they had Winogrand’s attention. His work celebrates their beauty, their energy and the sense of empowerment that life in this city had brought them. The photographer himself said, “I suspect that I respond to their energies, how they stand and move their bodies and faces.” (Winogrand, WNET, 1982).

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, Los Angeles, 1970s

A women’s hair is caught in a gust of wind as she attempts to adjust her purse. The left hand side of her body forms a point of reference to the vertical edge of the frame.

As a photographer, Winogrand’s involvement with his subjects never went further than these momentary exchanges in the street. He had no desire to photograph the familiar or those who were part of his own personal realm. ‘’I have a life! I don’t have to climb in to everyone’s I photograph” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). When asked about his travels, Winogrand expressed a preference for staying in a hotel over a friend’s home as he did not wish to witness to nitty gritty elements of their lives (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). His first wife said of their marriage, “Being married to Garry was like being married to a lens” (Stack, 2002). He was completely devoted to his art but it seems by devoting himself to a life of anonymity on the street, he was depriving himself of intimacy elsewhere.

Winogrand had little interest in penetrating his subjects on an emotional level, or indeed reveal anything deep about their character. He lived for the candid moment. His method of shooting, his chosen backdrop of the New York street, only offered him seconds to witness and capture a snippet of a passerby’s life. This time frame is barely enough to scrape the surface of their character, but this proved enough for Winogrand. For this reason beautiful women were the ideal subject for him and it’s in his images of them that I believe his work street photography is particularly successful. For Winogrand, “beauty is only emulsion deep” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). He saw no point in trying to see beyond this veneer and explained that all a camera does is project light on to surface.

Winogrand has often been criticised for his apparent lack of disregard for the formal rules of composition. It was often concluded that the chaos of the street environment offered no time to adhere to such rules. According to John Szarkowski, curator of ‘Winogrand 1964’, his trademark tilt was a result of his preference to use a wide angle lens. When questioned once about his skewed horizon Wingogrand offers another answer, “The pictures are never tilted... the vertical edge is as rational to use as any”. Here he argues that he simply places more importance on the vertical edge than the horizontal. When quizzed about one particular image, he offers the answer that it is the line of a man’s jacket provides the compositional element (Winogrand, ICP, 1979).

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, New York, 1960s

This woman seems to be rushing and has become entangled by hair. Onlooking men have noticed. The right side of her body, from nose to knee,  forms a vertical line to the vertical edge of the frame.

Surface beauty was often all that was needed to capture the eye of this photographer and in the case of women, their attire can often be a contributing factor to this. The chaotic streets of New York and its suitably busy inhabitants provided Winogrand with many moments where the physical beauty of a woman was brought to his attention. The design of a city offers all sorts of extremes. Enter an over shadowed street and a pedestrian can become immediately much colder than they were on the previous corner. Enter into a throng of people on an over populated street and one can become flustered and hot. A gust of wind as a women crosses a wide street can cause garments to be blown out of their intended position and expose the wearer to the thousands of strangers walking past. Women’s attire is often impractical for these harsh conditions and when tested can alter the way they carry themselves in this public realm. As they brave these conditions, they strive to maintain control over their carefully constructed public identity.

These very moments facilitated Winogrand’s photography. While clearly captivated by a fleeting glimpse of body parts otherwise intended to be hidden or partially covered at least, I believe he was also drawn to the compositional possibilities their figures offered. In the hectic New York street which acted as a prop to which these women could react and respond, the horizon becomes mere background noise. The line of women’s body offered a new point of reference to which the vertical edge of the image could be aligned.

Women and Architecture in the City

Studying the work of Winogrand and his choice to use the city street as his main go-to location for his work, led me to wonder what it is about this public space that makes its inhabitants, in particular women, act in a certain way. Has urban design affected the way in which we, as users of this public realm, hold ourselves and interact with those around us? The human race has not always inhabited such unnatural conditions and we’ve had to learn to adapt over time. Has the creation and design of cities both modern and post-modern, forced us to create a guard to protect ourselves against the harshness of the city or has it empowered us, as women, to explore roles and opportunities that would otherwise not be available to us.

Elizabeth Wilson explores this topic extensively in her books, ‘The Sphinx in the City’ and ‘Adorned in Dream’.

The early 19th century city emancipated women in a way that had not previously possible. Women were now partaking in roles outside of marital life. They had jobs, they took public transport and they were free to walk the streets and encounter others as individuals i.e not under the watchful eye of their husbands or fellow suburbanites. But to men, this newfound sense of independence in women and their visual availability and such close proximity to men posed a threat. Wilson speaks of the city in the early 20th century as a place of temptation for men to stray sexually outside of the family unit. The city began to elicit a sense of paranoia in them.

Women’s presence began to be seen as a problem in the city. 19th century urban planning reports likened women to hysterical crowds and referred to the city as a new version of hell. In Vienna, scholars drew comparisons between the chaos of the city and women. Man was seen as the rationalising force which could bring order to this chaos. They represented the science behind the creation of the modern building and women stood for the dislocated consciousness it produced. 

Clothing and the City

In Theodore Dreiser’s novel, ‘Sister Carrie’, his heroine has just moved to New York from the American countryside and has to quickly adjust to city life. She was unaccustomed to the anonymity elicited by the urban crowd and disliked “the fine ladies who elbowed and ignored her, brushing past her in utter disregard of her presence”. Carrie quickly concluded that in order to be noticed, she would need adorn herself in suitable attire for, in her mind, “only by becoming part of the spectacle can you truly exist in the city”.

Carrie Bradshaw getting splashed by a passing by bus bearing her own picture, opening credits, Sex and the City

Many of the women who caught the eye of Garry Winogrand were particularly well dressed. As I have not come across any evidence to suggest that he was interested in fashion or personal style, my guess is that he was only aware of this on a subconscious level. These particular women wore clothes which were made to be noticed. Such attire can arouse confidence is the wearer and perhaps it is this attitude which Winogrand responded to. For these women, clothing was an extension of their personal selves which they were content with displaying in the public realm of the street. On the other hand there were women whose attire seemed to have attracted his gaze for an entirely different reason.

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s
A particularly stylish woman and her son. Here the young boy creates the vertical. His kaftan mimics that of the woman behind him. 

In ‘The Sphinx in the City’, Wilson speaks of excursions she made with her mother to the city as a child. She recalls them being immensely fatiguing and flustered. In particular she remembers how her mother, a suburbanite, would dress for such an outing, “she kept her hat tipped forward, her little veil in place”. Although totally anonymous to the strangers who passed them by, the author’s mother made every effort to ensure that her pretensions would not be exposed. One tilt of her hat too far in one direction could render her appearance unkept. As we have seen, Winogrand’s work frequently honed in on instances and moments of unintentional exposure: when a women’s personal self is made public.

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s.
This woman appears to have been caught in a rain shower yes does not seem bothered by Winogrand’s lens or by the way her top is now clinging to her, leaving little to the imagination of the viewer. She too acts as a compositional element in this frame

Architects such as Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, acknowledged women’s struggle to live and exist in the city. An avid purveyor of utilitarian design, Loos looked down upon women’s desire to self-ornament. Despite this he understood that this tactical on their part and was done with the hope of attracting male attention. Le Corbusier on other hand was apparently inspired by his secretary’s tale of dreaded crowded train journeys to and from work and from that began work on his design for ‘The Radiant City’.

Le Corbusier's 'The Radiant City'. Image Source: architzer.com

The Public Self and Crowds

The extraction of the individual from the urban crowd was a frequent theme in the work of Winogrand. He hunted relentlessly for that moment where life would capture his attention. It was only when he had shot the moment, processed it and held it in his hand, could he fully appreciate the individual who had caught his eye in the first place and the complexity of the encounter between themselves, the crowd and the city.

If the city held opportunities for women, the crowd stood in opposition. Wilson sees city life as ‘the intensification of contrasts’. One can be both alone yet surrounded by people. In a mere second a person can go from being lost in their own thoughts to being completely exposed. A simple trip or disturbance causes people to stare and take notice. “The streets belong to everybody”, and in them it is impossible for a person to exist as a private being. Despite this, the maintenance of one’s real self behind the cover of their public self is vital to some level of survival in a crowd.

Winogrand became a master of his trade, and his ability to dissimilate himself within a crowed facilitated this. He frequently expressed that he had absolutely no interest in engaging socially with his subjects and that he merely wished to capture a moment where their surface beauty shined. However I feel his eye was often attracted to moments ever so slightly deeper than his subjects’ guard wished him to go. Winogrand had a keen ability to look through the depth of the urban crowd and capture that spilt second where his subjects’ public guard had slipped and their real self was exposed. These moments in particular are evident in his work when a women’s physical self becomes more exposed than the subject had intended.

In some cases, the individual thrives in the anonymity (if left undisturbed) that the street can offer them. On the other hand, there is that rare person who wishes to be noticed. To them the crowd provides a breeding ground for chance meetings, social encounters and attention of a sexual nature.

Modern Street and Fashion Photography and the City

The streets of New York and their crowds  have long enabled exhibtionism and voyeurism. Today a the term 'street photography' is often associated with shots of beautifully adorned men and women, on their way to and from major fashion events such as in the work of Tommy Ton of jakandjil.com or in the case of thesartorialist.com, simply on the city street. The widely celebrated work of Bill Cunningham documents street style trends and that alone. These photographers however do not pretend to be concerned with communicating a deeper message about society.  Cunningham puts this bluntly in 'Bill Cunningham New York',

“But the difference for me is I don't see the people I photograph. All I see are clothes. I'm only interested in people who look good. I'm looking for the stunners.”

Bill Cunningham, New York Times

                                                                                                           Milan Fashion Week, jakandjil.com

The street however remains still for these photographers an essential backdrop to their work. The very nature of their work lies in its candid nature. It assures us as viewers that we are seeing real people who have not been heavily airbrushed and who are occupying the same spaces we can occupy ourselves. However contemporary street photographers of this kind have gained a huge level of recognition for their work and it is difficult to tell how many people are dressing for themselves and how many are, in a sense, 'peacocking' for their attention.

The work of William Klein and Melvin Sokolsky bridges an interesting gap between the women of Winogrand's street and those who feature in contemporary street style blogs. Perhaps Sokolsky's most well known shoot, his bubble series for Vogue in 1963 featured models suspended in a plexiglass bubble over the streets of Paris. In the majority of the images, passers by look on in a mixture of bewilderment and amusement while the model maintains her pose. She is defiant and seems undeterred by her surroundings, succeeding in looking effortlessly chic and at ease.

William Sokolsky, Paris, 'Bubble Series', Vogue, 1963

Klein is known for his innovative approach to fashion photography. He is perhaps the first to have brought his models out of the studio and in to the street. Here their role as simply beautiful women upon which clothes were hung was tested. They were forced to reckon with the raw energy of the New York street, all the while maintaining composure. Klein pushed the envelope even further in his work where models posed in front of mirrors in the middle of busy New York traffic, and on Brooklyn Bridge. The result is disorientating and forces us to consider the street beyond the mirror, the subject and the street as reflected in the mirror. The model is left in no doubt of her position in the city and her sense of self-awareness is therefore greatly heightened.

William Klein , New York , 1959, Life is good and good for you

Winogrand was attracted to beautiful women who were empowered by their surroundings and who showed a moment where their real self could be identified in the midst of a crowd who desperately clung on to to their anonymity. In a recent photographic series by Thomas Zanon-Larcher, originally known for his backstage photography, models are given a short scenario to act out in a city setting over the course of fifteen mintues. During this time Zanon-Larcher shoots only when a particular moment catches his attention. His models' clothes are carefully selected to add to the model's depth of character “How she holds herself and what she wears, are in a way symbols of her confidence and success”. The manner in which the photographer has edited this series is of particular interest. A certain level of importance was placed upon moments these models with such apparent natural beauty were caught off guard; in slightly unflattering lighting or where their expression hinted at a deeper level of emotion (Hazelton, 2013).

  Thomas Zanon-Larcher, Aestethica, 2013

By Ciana March


Wilson, E. (1991) The Sphinx in the City: Urban Life, the Control of Disorder, and Women. London: Virago Press
Wilson, E. (1985) Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. London: Virago Press
Stack, T W (2002) Winogrand 1964: photographs from the Garry Winogrand Archive Centre for 
Creative Photography, The University of Arizona. Santa Fe, N.M. : Arena Editions
Winogrand, G.; Fraenkel Gallery and Lifson, B. (1999) The man in the crowd: the uneasy streets of Garry Winogrand. San Francisco : Fraenkel Gallery
Sokolsky, M. and Harrison, M. (2000) Seeing Fashion. Santa Fe, N.M. : Arena Editions
Klein, W. (1995) Life is good & good for you in New York: trance witness revels. Manchester: Dewi Lewis
Meyerowitz, J. and Westerbeck C. (1994) Bystander: A History of Street Photography. Boston, Mass. ; London: Little, Brown and Company

Hazelton, C. (2013) ‘In the Room of Dreams: Thomas Zanon-Larcher’. Aesthetica, Iss. 51 p.34-39
(No author stated) (2013) ‘Life Through the Lense: Garry Winogrand’. Aesthetica, Iss. 51 p.58-71

Lectures / Interviews
Winogrand, G (1979) Interview at International Centre of Photography, New York. ‘The Photographic Lecture Series’.Online audio archive available at: http://lectures.icp.edu/archive/1979.html
Winogrand, G (1982) In conversation with Bill Moyers, WNET ‘Creativity’.
Available at: http://2point8.whileseated.org/2007/03/23/garry-winogrand-with-bill-moyers/

Websites / Blogs
The Wapping Project Bankside (2013) thewappingprojectbankside.com Group exhbition feat. Thomas Zanon-Larcher.
Available at: http://www.thewappingprojectbankside.com/exhibitions/2012/zanon-larcher-falling-a-part/index.shtml
Messy Nessy Chic (2013) messynessychic.com How they did it: The Bubble Girl in Paris 1963, posted 4th Sep ‘12.
Available at: http://www.messynessychic.com/2012/09/04/how-they-did-it-the-bubble-girl-in-paris-1963/
The American Society of Cinematographers (2013) www.theasc.com Street-Wise: The Photography of Garry Winogrand and Alexey Titarenko, posted 7th Dec ‘09.
Available at: http://www.theasc.com/blog/2009/12/07/street-wise-the-photography-of-garry-winogrand-and-alexey-titarenko/
Moloney, K (2012) http://blog.kevinmoloney.com. Shooting the Mean Streets, posted 4th Aug ‘10.
Available at http://blog.kevinmoloney.com/?tag=garry-winogrand
Garza, O.C. (2013) Class time with Garry Winogrand, ‘07.
Available at: http://www.ocgarzaphotography.com/documents/ClassTimewithGarryWinograndfinal3.pdf