Director’s Choice: Garry Winogrand

Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso-Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography is on view through Sunday, April 27. JCSM director Marilyn Laufer suggests you make a point to experience the work of Garry Winogrand before the exhibition closes.

Currently on view at JCSM is an extraordinary exhibition entitled Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography, which features 150 photographs that provide a comprehensive overview of the fine art of photography over the last century. Included are images that with time have become classic icons as well as those that are less known. There are breathtakingly beautiful images such as Paul Caponigro’s Redding Woods from 1968 and others that are challenging like the eerie portraits of children by Loretta Lux and still others that are quite unsettling such as the images by Joel Peter Witkin.  This exhibition provides the viewer with an opportunity to see firsthand the diverse subjects, techniques and possibilities of modern photography – especially very recent work.

One of the artists featured in this exhibition is Garry Winogrand, who died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 56. The three Winogrand images in the current exhibition are not going to grab your attention at first, and this is why I am directing attention to them, as I do not want you to miss this subtle genius.  Wielding a 35 mm Leica as an extension of his eye, the artist absorbed all aspects of the world he encountered while walking or driving through America.  Winogrand was a vastly productive artist who could expose a roll of film in the short time it took him to cover one city block. Those many rolls of exposed film would then sit for a year or so before he would develop them and print them as contact sheets.  He did that so when he considered the images he would be compelled by the image rather than a recent memory of making the image.  From this point of reflection he would begin his process of editing – selecting the shot that captured the essence of what he wanted us to see. At his untimely death there were approximately 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film and 300 unedited contact sheets. His process not only revealed his prolific output but also points to the fact that taking the image was only a part of his photographic method. Overall it was his careful consideration of which image would best provide that delicate balance of documentation, observation, ambiguity and overtone.

Winogrand’s working method is evident in the image entitled Albuquerque, New Mexico from 1960, where we see a concrete driveway leading up to an attached garage of a suburban ranch style house (street number 208) mostly cropped out of the picture.  The landscape surrounding the house at right is high desert covered by sage and piñon suggesting that we are on the far outskirts of town.  Emerging from the darkness of the garage is a barefoot diapered baby looking off to the left.  Deeper in the shadowy space is another child in a striped shirt. The children’s vulnerability is most disturbing. There does not appear to be any adult supervision and therefore nothing to prevent either of them from wandering off into the desert or down the driveway. A tricycle lies on its side in the middle of the driveway, suggesting that both or at least one of them has at one point left the relative coolness of the garage to venture out into the desert heat.  There is no doubt that the image purposely puts the viewer on edge, but why? Perhaps right outside the picture frame there are loving adults who have built this house in what will become a promising suburban enclave with good schools and playgrounds nearby. But what if the photograph reveals a more edgy meaning that building in the foothills was a bad decision made by foolish people who should not be parents.   Winogrand has given us only enough information to make us take a second look as we try to decipher the narrative of this story under a big dramatic New Mexico sky.

The other images are similar in presenting us with scenarios that have no certain outcome.  In Central Park Zoo, New York (1962) the viewer is left to wonder if the caged wolf in the background is a metaphorical reference to the male figure as predator. He carefully places his arm behind the woman who stands close to him appearing to listen, with arms crossed defensively across her chest.  Or perhaps, the caged wolf really references the idea of the couple being held captive by the sexual/ cultural mores of the time.

In the image entitled New York (from the series Women Are Beautiful), 1968, we find it impossible to not to smile at the beautiful young lady holding a melting ice cream cone between her fingers and tossing her head back with  uproarious laughter.  Behind her in the storefront window is an empty suit that stands in sharp contrast to the overflowing sheer joy she exudes.  Without a doubt she is the object, as so much of art history is, of the male gaze. But she is anything but passive and her uninhibited expression of delight seems to signify a self-assuredness that negates any authority of the observer. But then again, we do not know what exactly the reason for her exuberance is.

Garry Winogrand revealed America of the 1960s to his audiences replete with the insecurities and inconsistencies of an era in turmoil and transition. The fact that they still challenge us is a not surprising. He was that good.

Admission to this exhibition is free courtesy of JCSM Business Partners. Exhibitions generally change three to four times a year and are curated from the permanent collection or by outside artists, organizations, and art museums. Shared Vision was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Jacksonville, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida, curated by Ben Thompson, MOCA’s curator, and Paul Karabinis, assistant professor of photography at UNF.

Member and community support helps JCSM fulfill its mission of “Art Changes Lives.”  

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