Garry Winogrand is one of my favorite street photographers of all-time. Sure, he hated the term “street photographer” and didn’t call himself one — but his contagious energy, love of the streets, and powerful imagery is what draws a lot of street photographers to him.
In the video above produced by Michael Engler, Winogrand shoots the streets of LA and shares some of his philosophies when it comes to street photography. Watch the video above or read a transcript that I put together below and some of my thoughts on what we as street photographers can learn from him.
1. On inspirations
“I think the photographers who I feel that I learn the most from—most immediately I feel most responsible to, are Walker Evans and Robert Frank.”
If you want to learn more about Walker Evans and his images, pick up a copy of: “American Photographs.” To learn more about Robert Frank, you can also read an article I wrote: “Timeless Lessons Street Photographers Can Learn from ‘The Americans‘”.
2. On the term: “street photographer”
“I hate the term, I think it’s a stupid term: “street photography”. I don’t think it makes any –It doesn’t tell you anything about the photographer or work, in a way.
You know on the subject, I have a book out called ‘The Animals’. Call me a ‘Zoo photographer’ –- the whole thing doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Garry Winogrand was one of the most prolific “street photographers.” Yet he hated the term “street photography.” If there is one thing we can learn from him is don’t worry whether you are a “street photographer” or not. Just go out there and capture life.
3. What street photographers are responsible for
“You know photographers are responsible for 2 things: once you put your body where you want it to be:
1) Whats in the frame and
2) When you snap the shutter
That’s what the photographer does. The camera does the rest. You get what the camera saw—in the end. You are responsible for whats inside the frame, whats in the edges, and when the shutter is snapped.”
Know that when you are shooting in the streets, there is so much beyond your control. Yet there is two things (according to Winogrand) you can control. What’s in the frame and when you click the shutter.
So when you see an interesting scene, position yourself in accordance with your subject to make a good frame. And of course, timing is essential– when to hit the shutter to capture “the decisive moment.”
4. What Winogrand looks for when shooting in the streets
“I try to frame in terms of what I want to include. I don’t think about pictures. When I photograph. I see life. That’s all there is—in my viewfinder. It’s not a picture there, you’re not a picture.”
As street photographers we want to capture memorable street photographs. But at the same time, don’t forget at the end of the day — experiencing life is more important than the photographs.
5. On what kind of photos he wants to make
“We know too much about how photographs look. Or pictures look. It is the easiest thing in the world. It is natural to make those pictures we know. It’s boring, you don’t learn anything that way. You keep making what you know.
So I try to deal with things — I’ve worked out my own way, I guess, to contend with that problem of being programmed about knowing too much about pictures.”
There are so many cliche and posed photographs out there that we get bored of looking at. Try to take photos that are interesting to you — and unique. Don’t feel obliged to follow the footpath of others– like Winogrand, make it your own way.
6. On how to take “good photos”
“Well when I’m photographing often enough somebody will come up to me and ask, are you getting good pictures? And I don’t know. I know what I photograph is interesting. I haven’t seen the pictures yet, you know. If uh, well — hopefully the picture will be more interesting when I photograph. I mean, if it isn’t that, it doesn’t work.”
Making “good” street photographs is really hard– and very rare. Even masters such as Winogrand didn’t know if he made a good photograph at the time of. It takes time to let your photos sit and marinate for a long time (Winogrand often would go years without seeing his negatives).
So go out, shoot, work hard, and hope for the best. And don’t forget, when you are editing — be brutal with yourself.
7. On why he photographs on the streets
“The way I would put it, I get totally out of myself in there– it is the closest I get to not existing, I think. Which is the best. [Laughs]. Which I– to me is attractive.”
To get into a state of “flow” is to do an activity that is challenging and stimulating enough that you totally lose sense of who you are and what you are doing. It is a state of euphoria and happiness– and nothing else matters.
So once again, don’t worry so much about making great photos all the time. Just go shot in the streets, and have fun– and lose yourself.
Winogrand at the SF MOMA
If you are in California, make sure to check out the Winogrand exhibition at the SF MOMA from March 9-June 2nd. More info here.
You can see some photos of the exhibition from the SF MOMA Facebook fan page.
See some of the exhibition prints on Vine here.
Pre-order the Winogrand SF MOMA Book
Don’t miss your chance: Make sure to pick up a copy Winogrand’s retrospective exhibition published by the SF MOMA. There are many images that haven’t been published before! You can pre-order a copy on Amazon here.
To learn more about Garry Winogrand, read my article: “10 Things Garry Winogrand Can Teach You About Street Photography“. Also see more valuable interviews with other street photographers from the documentary on YouTube here.