Garry Winogrand: The Sixties

More than any photographer of his time, Garry Winogrand’s photographs have come to define the 1960’s just as Walker Evans gave us the definitive record of the 1930’s. Living in New York during most of the decade it was as if Winogrand seemingly held virtually exclusive photographic rights to the streets of Manhattan. His photographs from this time describe a sort of urban minstrel show. It was in the Sixties that Winogrand first considered himself a serious photographer and for him these years were a period of personal trial. The “fat” years for photojournalists were ending; some of the most encouraging venues for editorial photography were ceasing publication. His marriage was in dissolution. And the specter of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 hung forebodingly in the air. Walking the streets in despair and fear, Winogrand felt uncharacteristically powerless to affect an outcome that could irrevocably alter his world, and that of his children. In the knowledge of his relative insignificance Winogrand was, in some strange way, liberated.

During these years Winogrand photographed voraciously: marches, rallies, press conferences, games, strikes, demonstrations, moratoria, funerals, parades, award ceremonies, dinners, museum openings, victory celebrations, birthday parties, and one moon shot. In the process, he captured the social and political denizens who shaped the era: John F. Kennedy, John Glenn, Nelson Rockefeller, Marilyn Monroe and Richard Nixon among many others.

Preceded by a century-long tradition of documenting current events, photographers of this new age, loaded with fast film, extremely handy single-lens reflex cameras, and wide-angle lenses began to shoot literally and figuratively “from the hip.” Winogrand’s pictures, formally groundbreaking and thematically unorthodox, capture the feel and texture of the most turbulent decade in recent American history and have influenced countless photographers since.

Winogrand’s best work had a powerful and distinctive authority. The nervous, manic, nearly chaotic quality was an appropriate formulation of a sense of life that was balanced somewhere between animal high spirits and an apprehension of moral disaster. — John Szarkowski