Garry Winogrand with Bill Moyers, 1982

Update: Vimeo pulled the video. Here it is from Jim Arnold’s site (download multiple formats). Thanks, Jim! And there’s the transcript, below.

Updated, again: Someone uploaded the original post I had here to youtube, so here you go. Part 1:

And Part 2:

Updated, with Transcript:
I saw footage from this in a John Szarkowski documentary a year or two ago, but here it is for wider consumption. Thanks to Jim for giving the nod to let it reach a wider audience.

Audio is only on one channel. Here’s background. There’s a further update to this post, with links to hi-res versions.

Garry Winogrand with Bill Moyers, Creativity, WNET, 1982
When I’m photographing, I see life. That’s what I deal with. I don’t have pictures in my head. I frame in terms of what I want to include, and naturally, when I want to snap the shutter. And I don’t worry about how the picture’s gonna look – I let that take care of itself. We know too much about how pictures look and should look, and how do you get around making those pictures again and again. It’s one modus operandi. To frame in terms of what you want to have in the picture, not about how – making a nice picture. That, anybody can do.

– –

I’m very subjective in what I photograph. When things move, I get interested, I know that much. Women interest me. How they look – certainly how they look, and how they move. Their energy.

– –

It’s sort of like photographing theater. That guy in the car, sitting on a back seat, waving at the crowd – to make a photograph more theatrical then the subject’s own theatricality is a hell of a problem.

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A picture is about what’s photographed and how that exists in the photograph – so that’s what we’re talking about. What can happen in a frame? Because photographing something changes it. It’s interesting, I don’t have to have any storytelling responsibility to what I’m photographing. I have a responsibility to describe well.

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The fact that photographs — they’re mute, they don’t have any narrative ability at all. You know what something looks like, but you don’t know what’s happening, you don’t know whether the hat’s being held or is it being put on her head or taken off her head. From the photograph, you don’t know that. A piece of time and space is well described. But not what is happening.

I think that there isn’t a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability. Any of ’em. They do not tell stories – they show you what something looks like. To a camera. The minute you relate this thing to what was photographed — it’s a lie. It’s two-dimensional. It’s the illusion of literal description. The thing has to be complete in the frame, whether you have the narrative information or not. It has to be complete in the frame. It’s a picture problem. It’s part of what makes things interesting.

– –

Two areas of the country have always fascinated me to photograph. One was Texas and one’s Southern California. I don’t understand, it just fascinates me. Show business and the oil: it’s improbable.

I’m surviving, you know.

You see the Georgiette Klinger? When there’s direct sun on it the whole thing becomes like a giant jewel, and depending on which cars are parked in front, open convertibles or whatever, all kinds — it’s almost like a pat answer as to how to illustrate the idea of this place – to make that work beyond just being an illustration of an idea. It’s, for me, an interesting problem.

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I learned a long time ago to trust my instincts. You see? When I’m photographing, I wanna — if I’m at the viewfinder and I know that picture, why take it? I’ll do something to change it, which is often the reason why I may tilt the camera or fool around in various ways. You don’t learn anything from repeating what you know, in affect, so I keep trying to make uncertain.

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What I found out, over photographing a long time – the more I do, the more I do. When you’re younger, you can only conceive of trying a limited amount of things to work with. The more I work, the more subject matter I can begin to try to deal with. ____. The nature of the photographic process – it is about failure. Most everything I do doesn’t quite make it. The failures can be intelligent ____; nothing ventured nothing gained, I mean. Hopefully you’re risking failing every time you make a frame.

– –

I’ve been in Los Angeles now a little over two years. This stuff is slightly under two thousand rolls, which is what I’ve developed since I’m here. And I have over two thousand to go.

I gotta show coming up in April. And I decided to make contacts from the film I’ve developed so far that I took in Venice and on Rodeo Drive, so that’s what I’m gonna deal with. You know what I mean? There’s no real system, it’s just, it’s gonna be pretty rough when I go to find a negative.

– –

I get into situations where there’s a lot of activity, more things can occur to me to try. Really, that’s what it’s about.

It always fascinates me – it bolloxes my mind, I mean, when people talk about photographs in depth, and what not, you know, when all a photograph does is describe light on surface. That’s all there is. And that’s all we ever know about anybody. You know, what we see. I mean, I think we are our faces and whatever, you know? That’s all there is, is light on surface.

– –

(Printer chat)

Printer: How much of what you see now affects what you do afterwards?

A: What a minute. You mean, affects my shooting? You know what happens? I look at some of these frames and I think, I gotta get my self a little more under control, though.

Printer: Well there’s a lot of things that you know aren’t going to be good, and certainly not great pictures, but they might be interesting to you. And I think as much as the final picture’s going to be interesting, the process of taking that picture at that point in time is equally interesting.

A: Well sure! One thing at a time. But it’s not just the act itself, it’s what I’m photographing. It’s the subject. I think I’m interested in how a lot of things look.

I’m shooting, to seeing the contacts, to seeing an enlargement, which again, is different than seeing a contact – it should be an event that you’re seeing.


(Gallery talk)

I am surprised that my prints sell. They’re not pretty, they’re not those kind of pictures that people easily put on their walls, they’re not that window onto a nice landscape or something. They aren’t.

I don’t have pictures in my head, you know. Look, I am stuck with my own psychology. With my own, uh, with me. So I’m sure that there’s some kind of thread, whatever, but I don’t have pictures in my head.

Q: When you went to Texas did it take you awhile to get your legs, kinda get oriented?

W: Not at all. Once there’s no – I start working right away. I know that.

Q: You shoot every day?

W: Yeah, sure. _____

– –

I don’t lay myself down on the couch to figure out why I’m a photographer and not this or that. Whatever it is, I can’t seem to do enough of it. It’s a pleasure.

Moyers: I’m struck that for Emmit Gowin and Garry Winogrand, photography is a way of life as well as a work of art. Gowin, wanting structure, prefers the rural where life changes slowly and traditions are deep. Winogrand, wanting action, is drawn to the new cities of the Sun Belt, where culture is motion and glitter reigns.

One believes ____, the other doubts we can know anything below the surface about anybody, ourselves included. Reality is the photograph itself, a particle plucked from time and space.

48 thoughts on “Garry Winogrand with Bill Moyers, 1982”

  1. Great find. Thanks.

    “The fact that photographs — they’re mute, they don’t have any narrative ability at all. You know what something looks like, but you don’t know what’s happening, you don’t know whether the hat’s being held or is it being put on her head or taken off her head. From the photograph, you don’t know that. A piece of time and space is well described. But not what is happening.”

    You can’t argue. But it’s fascinating that with almost every photo people insist on a story.

  2. I often feel like photographs are interesting only if they spur that insistence, above. Great photographs allow viewers to fill-in-the-blanks.

    On one hand, a well-described fact is a fact well-described, and maybe a little more, but only if you’re lucky. On the other, a well-described mystery reveals all kinds of unpredictable unknowns.

    The former’s a premeditated present from artist to viewer (a purchasable experience, tightly wrapped), the latter’s a cross between a found Megabucks ticket, a piñata, and a time bomb.

  3. That’s so fuckin cool! I’ve been looking for a copy of that on VHS for years and had given up. Once again, you come up aces! I thank you big time!

  4. This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Weird for me because he reminds me of one of my (non-photography) professors. And watching him on the street…it’s incredible how quickly he goes from one shot to the next, never taking more than a pause or experiencing the recoil from a previous shot. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. This is the first time I’ve seen Winogrand as a “live” subject. The man made a hell of deeper impression on me than his published interviews. Thanks for this as well as for the interview summary.


  6. I found this through John Sypal’s post on and I reposted it to a Chinese photography forum.

    This is so inspiring.

  7. Yes!

    I as well had never seen Winogrand as a living, breathing person. It was great to watch him work. I always heard he sorta fumbled around with his camera and acted quite funny while photographing. I loved it.


  8. I think it’s funny he has such a backlog of unprocessed film, yet when the cameras are rolling on him he processes his most recent films so that it can be included in the interview. I saw this at an NPPA short course in Denver in 1995. Like the Natalie Merchant video you posted, I was wondering if I’d ever see it again. Thanks so much.

  9. Watchign him work o nthe streets in Los Angeles reminds me of when I’d see him work on “The Drag” next to the University of Texas in the mid/late 1970s. but he also looks and acts like he’s doing it for the film crew. Still fascinating to see. Spooky to hear him again after nearly 30 years. It’s a pity he never made it back to NYC.

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  11. Garry Winogrand, one of the most inspiring photographers I have ever «met»! I wish I could have met him in person…
    Brad Webber, my friend from LA, brought that name – Garry Winogrand – into my way! I am thankful that this happened.

  12. When I take pictures, I see something about that picture, however, my husband thinks I take pictures of nothing. I enjoyed your words and I feel I am not alone.

  13. MDM – thanks for this great post. I’m doing a little Winogrand research and this comes in handy – especially the new clip!

  14. Winogrand is wrong and overly intellectual about photographs not being able to narrate. What is the lie, which he himself doesn’t realize, is when the artist/photographer tries to tell us what the art work does or doesn’t mean. The work itself is the statement – perfectly complete and true.

    See my site at

    And thanks for the provocative thought.

  15. To take it one step further philosophically.. the fact that something exists means also that a story and more, a meaning exists. To make stories which do not have stories, to make meanings without meaning is the art of meaning to have no meaning or creating the storyless story ;]. Which is then its own new genre of.. storytelling/meaning.

    To bail out Winogrand though, as most great artists – what we do is beyond us. Our proper rationale is in the work of art rather in our best after the fact efforts.

  16. In 1973 I was fortunate enough to take a week-long workshop with Garry Winogrand. It was at the Country Photography Workshop in Woodman, Wisconsin. We spent mornings photographing in small rural towns of the area. I remember the group discussing the day’s photos after dinner. He would ask one of the students,
    “what do you see in this photo?” Of course the person would create a “story” as a reply…you know, “well um, it looks like the little girl is sad because her mother won’t let her go into the store, and, you know, she is trying to break away from her mom, and he shoe came of while trying and…”. Winogrand would come back and say, “No, what do you SEE in the photograph?” I don’t think that any of us got it at that time. Although I never was a storyteller, it has taken me 35 years to accept that photographs do not narrate, they describe. Most of the world however, still cling to that old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Not!

  17. It is not much different than taking a movie camera and shooting an hour’s worth of film and then cherry picking out which shots are best.Either he is nuts or lying when he says he has no set idea of what he is doing.Everyone has opreset ideas of what they are thinking and what they are wanting to do–unless they are so hyper or anxious that they can not take their time to take great shots.

    I think he’s a fine photographer but a real bullshit artist.He doesn’t know what he means and the viewer has no idea what he is talking about.

    Art expresses something about the artist and not about “real life”I assume Winogrand’s inner life is just as jumbled and random as his way of taking pictures.Or talking.

    But we DO know that one of his “preconceptions” is taking pictures of attractive women.THAT is not random.

    The best and iconic pictures stick with us because they convey a thousand words!!Few of us remember or will remember Winogrand’s work but all of us will remember Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange’s work/.No?

  18. The best and iconic pictures stick with us because they convey a thousand words!!Few of us remember or will remember Winogrand’s work but all of us will remember Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange’s work/.No?

    No. I will remember Winogrand’s work. Just as clearly as I remember other’s work, maybe even more so. Because it had a huge impact on me, and I identified with his style.

    I’m not sure that what you are saying and what he was doing is so different. You say “Everyone has preset ideas of what they are thinking and what they are wanting to do–”

    Yes, he very well might have, BUT it was purely subconscious and driven by will and individuality. It was not premeditated or planned in any way. I sense an artist doing his thing, not an pseudo artist thinking “this will wow them” …

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