Photography Philosophy 101: I Photograph to See What the World Looks Like Photographed

Take photographs of whatever you find interesting– because you are curious to see what it will look like as a photo (as compared to “real life”/reality!)

“I photograph to see what the world looks like photographed.” – Garry Winogrand

I want to thank my buddy Charlie Kirk who first introduced me to the photographer Garry Winogrand. To me, Winogrand is one of the greatest street photographers to have lived. Not because he was the ‘best’ street photographer, but because he so dearly loved life– and lived his life to the fullest, until he tragically passed away early in his 50’s.

I love Winogrand for the following reasons:

1. His fun/sardonic attitude to photography/street photography in general.

Even though he was technically a ‘street photographer‘, he hated the term. In interviews he would say, “Call me a zoo photographer instead!” I think it is because he didn’t want to get trapped inside genres; he wanted to photograph anything and everything!

2. His edgy compositions

Winogrand was probably one of the most ambitious street photographers, in terms of his composition, angles, getting close, and shooting layers/multiple subjects (with his film Leica, ISO 1200 film, and 28mm lens).

He gets CLOSE into the action, and shoots aggressively, head-on.

3. His positive aggression

Some of his best photos of history (for example the black-white couple with the chimp ‘babies’) is a great example of where his aggression of getting the shot was so important — because he did it for the greater good, to make (in my opinion) a positive commentary on inter-racial relationships, and to uncover the racism that people (of his time) had of inter-racial relationships.

Garry Winogrand laughing with the couple. Tod Papageorge, Photo shot by Tod Papageorge

4. His philosophy

So once again, this quote Winogrand is famous for:

“I photograph to see what the world looks like photographed.”

I interpret it as the following:

Take photos because you will never know what the photos will look like!

Photography is amazing because it has the power to transform reality into something else.

For example with black and white photography, it transforms our chromatic world into monochrome. We don’t see the world in black and white, so shooting in black and white is awesome, epic, and surreal! I recommend everyone to try shooting black and white film (pick up a copy of FILM NOTES) and experiment for yourself. Shooting black and white film is a good exercise, because we know that we are committed. Once you shoot black and white (unlike digital/RAW) you cannot convert it back into color. Once it is shot in black and white film; it is going to be a final black and white image! And this ‘creative constraint‘ is actually quite good for us creatively.

Try shooting film

The same actually goes for shooting color film (I recommend Kodak Portra 400). The reason is this: color film looks VERY DIFFERENT from the real world, and certainly from digital photos. I ultimately prefer shooting film (black and white or color) instead of digital; but nowadays when I’m on the road, I shoot digital mostly for practical reasons.

My most meaningful projects (SUITS, ONLY IN AMERICA, CINDY PROJECT) are all shot on film (Kodak Portra 400, or Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 1600). Even Cindy says she prefers my film photos for the timeless aesthetic.

I also think the reason why film is more beautiful than digital is the beautiful imperfections. For example, the grain is irregular, random, and chaotically scattered around; which I think, actually looks more aesthetically pleasing. Too much regularity is ugly.

Or if you shoot digital, shoot in RAW and process your photos with ERIC KIM PRESETS. Make your digital photos look messier/more grainy/more gritty — and make your photos look as ‘false’ to reality as possible.

Shoot what you’re curious about!

Above all, shoot because it fulfills your visual curiosity!

So when you’re shooting a scene, a detail, a texture, or a color — just ask yourself:

“I wonder what this will look like as a photograph?”


Learn more about Winogrand:

Download PDF Interview: Monkeys make the problem more difficult collective interview with garry winogrand

Articles on Winogrand:

Photography Philosophy >

Cindy with framed hands. Saigon, 2017

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