Last week, I spent two full days doing research in the Garry Winogrand archives at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. I went there for a few reasons, but mainly because I was interested in their holdings of Winogrand’s contact sheets. CCP has all 19,000 of them.
I spent five hours a day with a loupe, trying to take a critical look at what Winogrand saw and chose to photograph over thirty years. Big task, not enough time. Specifically, I looked at a slice of the nearly twenty-five hundred sheets that were printed posthumously — work that was done mostly in Los Angeles, shot from the passenger side of a moving car.
No one’s really waded in and made sense of the posthumous images yet, and I wanted to see what they looked like, how messy they might be. There’s something about the “story” of what happened in the last years of Winogrand’s life that’s intriguing. How a photographer, knowing that he’s running out of time, would increase the pace, and leave thousands of undeveloped rolls to be developed after his passing.
What I found was as fascinating as it was just plain mad, and in accumulation, the pictures temporarily blew out my ability to make sense of anything visual. (Eyes = blood shot) I don’t know how magazine editors did it in the old days, hunched over a light box with an eye closed; it takes stamina.
Quick hits on items I’m planning to bring to 2point8 in the near future:
- There are books-worth of unpublished material in the archive that rival the work that’s already been published.
- There are mind-numbingly boring sections in which you could tell he was searching for something, trying something new, and failing
- Winogrand managed to be both prolific and a keen editor, a combo that any photographer in today’s digital world (like me!) can learn loads from
- Being able to observe his edit marks and notes to his printer (Tom Consilvio) was illuminating (see below)
- I have a vague sense that Winogrand is the primogenitor of digital photography, even though he never shot digitally
At the archive, you’re asked to clear your pockets, surrender your pens and leave all your belongings in lockers. You can’t touch anything without wearing cotton gloves. The staff there does a great job and watches you constantly. For good reason. Against better judgement, I knew I needed a rough sketch of what I was up to there, so I snuck this blurry snapshot, showing a sheet from 1971 antiwar demonstrations in Central Park. The red checks and 0’s determine which frames Winogrand requested for work prints.
This particular sheet of about 40 images is from a folder of a hundred images (4000 images in each folder). Each box in the archive held three folders (12,000 images per box) and there are 56 boxes in total (which equals 72,000 to 760,000 images on contact sheets, depending on your math, and images per sheet).
More to come on all of this…