The Grand Visions of Garry Winogrand

Cincinnati Art Museum highlights Winogrand's photography

May 27, 2009 at 2:06 pm

‘Garry Winogrand would move fast through the streets, see things happening, maybe across an intersection, would move to that area, firing off his Leica, the wide-angle lens essentially pre-focused, moving with the camera, the energy, the freneticism of the street coming through.”

That’s Cincinnati Art Museum photography curator James Crump talking, and he’s unconsciously using a speaking style similar to the shooting style of the photographer whose show will open at the museum on Saturday. Garry Winogrand: Women Are Beautiful is Crump’s first CAM exhibition since becoming curator of an expanded photography department last August.

Crump considers Winogrand (1928-1984) an underrated member of a vibrant generation of photographers, which includes Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Lee Friedlander. Winogrand, he points out, was a subject of John Szarkowski’s first show as photography curator at the Museum of Modern Art in 1963: “A key moment in American photography,” Crump says.

“What fascinates me is Winogrand’s mystery,” he says. “He’s enigmatic, but as an artist he ranks with these other leading photographers. There’s been a process of discovery through the last two decades, in studying the political and social context of America in that period.”

The Women Are Beautiful photographs are particularly interesting to Crump because of Winogrand’s total involvement in the project.

“They were published as a portfolio in 1981, during Winogrand’s lifetime, which for me underscores not only their importance but shows Garry at work approving, selecting, sequencing. There’s no speculation about whether he considered these photographs important, although there’s a lot of speculation about his work in general. When he died he left a tremendous amount that’s still being combed through.”

Women Are Beautiful appeared as a book in 1975, and in 1981 Winogrand produced a portfolio of 85 prints selected from those works. Eighty of the portfolio prints will be shown at CAM.

“This show is incredibly cohesive, it shows him working in a very narrow, thematic way,” Crump says. “Women were an obsession for him. The period of time is important; it’s the same moment as the second wave of feminism, a very complex time. It’s hard to pin down Winogrand — is he a feminist, a misogynist, does he adore or dislike women?”

The 80 works will be crowded into the single Vince Waddell gallery in a deliberately tight hanging “to show the confrontational aspect of his work,” Crump says. He explains that “there’s a voyeuristic quality to many of the photographs,” citing a picture of a woman “aware of the photographer and moving fast.” But in others the women are not aware of the camera at all.

“The power of the series is in seeing it whole,” he says. “That communicates the energy and fulfills his original intention. He started as a journalist for magazines, but in the 1960s gave that up and moved into art photography. In the ’60s, and up through 1971, he was at his sharpest, at the peak of his career.” The pictures in Women Are Beautiful all come from that productive time.

What about women in Winogrand’s private life?

“He was married three times,” Crump says. “He struggled in his personal life and in relationships. Some of this has to do with the times and the nature of how photography was received. He struggled to support his family. There were children, and he photographed them a great deal. Those pictures show a wonderful sense of a father’s care and attention to his kids. It’s tragic that he had to struggle to make ends meet.”

Crump, an editor of the book Garry Winogrand: 1964 for the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, has a longtime interest in this photographer. The book presents work from a cross-country tour Winogrand took with the backing of a Guggenheim fellowship and is from the same rich period as Women Are Beautiful.

Winogrand was insistent on taking part in the whole process of bringing the Women Are Beautiful photographic prints to fruition.

“He had assistants in the dark room, but participated in the process, in the refinement of the image,” Crump says. “In the Women Are Beautiful series he had complete control over quality and how each picture was created.”

WOMEN ARE BEAUTIFUL is on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum Saturday through Aug. 23. Admission is free. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.