I should start by saying that the following reflection on Garry Winogrand is based mostly on my memory, so when you see a question mark it’s because I am uncertain as to the specifics. I have chosen not to Google or fact-check any details besides the year of his death, 1984. It was important to me to verify that single solitary fact for several reasons, the first being that it was the year George Orwell’s 1984 was released as a film; the second because after several years of trudging through life on the RTD (Los Angeles Rapid Transit District), I purchased my first Los Angeles automobile; thirdly, having secured said wheels, this native Detroiter mutated into a fully semi-functional Angeleno.
And so this is where it gets fuzzy. I recall seeing Winogrand’s work first in a photo magazine called Picture(?) several years earlier and was immediately attracted, fascinated, enchanted, dazzled, charmed, enthralled, captivated, beguiled, mesmerized, hypnotized, and spellbound by his “road” images – cruel and inhumane rodeos, cruel and inhumane suburbs, cruel and inhumane airport terminals, cruel and inhumane roadside attractions.
The first time I encountered Winogrand’s work in an exhibition was what I assume was a posthumous retrospective(?) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles(?) in 1984(?). Much of Winogrand’s more studied New York City street photography – “Black Eyed Mobster Driving Away In Sports Car With Kidnapped Girlfriend”(Title?), “Interracial Couple With Chimp In Central Park”(Title?), “Mildly Amused Mobsters at Copacabana Supper Club”(Title?) – were included. And believe me I love and admire this body of work along with other street photographers such as Weegee, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, and particularly Robert Frank.
But what impressed me most was Winogrand’s last body of work, which he executed while living with his daughter in Los Angles. Legend (or my fading Rashomon manufactured memory / imagination) has it that the photographer had his daughter drive him aimlessly around the same very streets I was simultaneous discovering in my brand new 1984 Nissan Sentra. (White, base model, no factory installed radio. Why? A twin-cassette mix-tape-loaded boom-box works just as well, and at a fraction of the cost.) Winogrand rode shotgun armed with a 35mm single-lens-reflex motor-drive camera and a couple 10-blocks of Tri-X film(?), while I was struggling just to get my bearings in this land of perpetual double decker strip malls.
The result of this restless and relentless shooting regiment was evident in the last room of the exhibition. In this space three Kodak carousel slide projectors sat abreast of each other on a central pedestal, spewing a constant barrage of images upon the wall. This visual assault from the trio of World War One machine gunners flashed on the wall like a flip-book animation. Random, accidental, haphazard, drifting, messy, willy-nilly, scattershot, potshot visual rants of nearly ever street corner in Hollywood, El Monte, Rampart, West Covina, Vernon, Commerce, Bell, Bell Gardens, Maywood, Rosemead, Whittier, Florence, Pico Rivera, Downey, Duarte, and Inglewood. Or so it seemed.
What I was most impressed with was the reckless abandon of his “drive-by” shooting style, the unedited display of the mass of images coming from the slide projectors, and finally a trio of large, clear garbage bags stuffed with countless rolls of exposed but undeveloped film. At the end of his life, Winogrand had transformed into the pure essence of a photographer, a seer, a witness, unencumbered by the desire to produce a visual record of what he was participating in: driving ’round and around with his daughter, camera pressed to his face. The pure act of seeing was all he needed in the end, and as a seer he was prolific.
See also: On the Road with Garry Winogrand