'Los Angeles, California'
Width 31.7 cm x height 21.7
Museum no. PH.148-1987
© The estate of Garry Winogrand,
courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
This image, like much of Winogrand's best work, is highly disquieting. Typically, Winogrand has used a wide-angle lens, capturing the people in detail and also much of their surroundings. He has also tilted the camera (which was not done arbitrarily) which further distorts the scene. Without the figure in the wheelchair it would be simply one of Winogrand's many images of women on the street.
The extraordinary refraction of light in the centre of the image silhouettes the women's legs. The centrality of their legs (and their prettiness and sexuality by connotation) is emphasised by the long shadows they cast. The women look towards the man slumped in the wheelchair, a begging cup between his knees, and their momentary glance becomes the central activity of the image. The women's sexuality, youth and mobility are contrasted with the man's poverty and immobility.
The position of the camera places the viewer at street level, giving us a sense of the immediacy of the scene and our relationship to it. Winogrand would have strongly denied the notion that he used photography to illustrate his own perspective of the world - rather that he discovered the existence of unanticipated perspectives - through experiment, play of intuition and luck. The fact, however, that Winogrand clearly understood photography's ability to reconstruct the real world in a meaningful way is perhaps proof that the images he selected were describing something meaningful to him.
Garry Winogrand represented a new generation of photographers who became active in the 1950s. Initially, he worked in photojournalism. There his work, and that of his contemporaries such as Dan Weiner and Diane Arbus, seemed very casual in comparison with work by established photojournalists. It also seemed to be lifted directly and spontaneously from the flow of real life.
By the 1960s, partly due to the decline of photo magazines and also to his growing awareness of photographers such as Robert Frank, Winogrand increasingly orchestrated his subject matter into a larger, personal scheme. This is reflected in the division of much of his work into general themes.
From 1960 to 1965, for example, he was preoccupied with photographing women walking on the street. He produced a series of images in the 1960s of zoos observing human behaviour as well as the animals. In the early 1970s he shot over two thousand photographs of public events.
Winogrand gave up commercial photography in 1969. He had received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and had enjoyed the freedom of having no commercial pressures. During the 1970s and early 1980s he took up lecturing posts in American universities. He was uneasy about teaching, not only because he was self-taught, but also since he strongly defended his own work against theoretical interpretations. He left a vast body of work unfinished at his death in 1984, possibly 300,000 exposures that he had not developed or printed.
This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13b.