When I Wanted To Be A Street Photographer Like Garry Winogrand
I’m walking downtown,
trying to be like Garry Winogrand
when you step out into the August dusk,
the low sun shining through your dress,
the shape of your thighs a sudden intimacy
wiping away all my loneliness.
Though strangers, we fall into step,
heading the same way toward the park.
Sometimes I get ahead
until the corner where we
stand side by side at the light.
I turn as if just observing the scene,
glimpse you in profile,
the breeze tugging back your hair,
the slightest upturn of the mouth,
eyes gleaming. With mirth?
Or is it just the setting sun?
Oh, beautiful one,
you must know I am looking at you,
Does that make you smile?
I want to take your picture.
Are you hoping I do?
We cross the street,
walking abreast half a block more
before I gather my courage.
“Can I take your picture?”
“What for?” you ask, your question
unsmiling that lovely mouth,
those true eyes seeing right through me.
I don’t have a good answer.
I say I am a street photographer
like Garry Winogrand,
which really means nothing.
A citizen in a suit steps between us.
“So sorry!” He back pedals,
his deference throwing us together.
I take my chance, snap one shot.
You turn away, “Please, leave me…”
and wave me off.
I’ve hurt you. I’m an idiot.
Like a penitent child, I lower my camera,
apologize, eyes averted, and walk on,
pretending to look for other subjects,
hoping to save a few crumbs of my dignity
so you might see I really am a street photographer
like Garry Winogrand.
Not until I cross the park
do I dare look back,
the fountain soaring into the dying sky,
bare legged girls perching the rim,
lovers entangled in the grass.
Somewhere a saxophone
moans heartbreak. You are gone.
I look for you on my camera,
the single shot out of focus,
a swirl of hair and light.
I delete it.
I am alone.
– E.A. Melino
Image: “Washington Square Park, Summer 2018.” Original photograph taken by author.
Who Was Garry Winogrand?
This poem and my own photographs were inspired by Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), an American photographer famous for his candid pictures of people in the streets of New York and cities in Texas and California. He belongs to a long line of great street photographers, though he disavowed the term, preferring to call himself simply a photographer. He photographed not only the comings and goings of regular Americans, but also many quintessential American moments, great and small.
Winogrand died long before the existence of the digital camera. Yet, he took pictures like a digital photographer. In the course of a day, he would shoot hundreds of photos and consume over a dozen 35mm film rolls. With each one, he had to unload and reload his camera. To see anything, he had to develop the roll and at least print a contact sheet (a single 8×10 print containing “thumbnails” of a single roll’s contents). By some estimates, Winogrand shot over five million photos in his lifetime, only a fraction of which he was able to develop.
For most of his street work, he used a Leica M4, a light, durable and rather boxy rangefinder camera made for mobility.
With the Leica, the photographer sees through a viewfinder, similar to but far more sophisticated than the crude viewfinders found on cheap disposable cameras. Viewfinders differ significantly from the single lens reflex (SLR) cameras that became synonymous with 35mm photography. The media and the popular mind almost always imagine the photographer eyeing the world through a long lens SLR. But in fact, the boxy little Leica was very popular with photojournalists and pros on the go taking candid shots.
The First Documentary on Winogrand
The first documentary film on Winogrand, “All Things Are Photographable,” premiers in the fall of 2018 and will air on PBS in 2019.
The documentarian Sasha Waters Freyer produced and directed the film. Though she considers herself primarily a moving image artist, she majored in photography as an undergraduate. Currently, she chairs the Department of Photography & Film at Virginia Commonwealth University.
In a recent interview in the blog Women and Hollywood, Freyer explains what drew her to Winogrand as a subject:
A new, comprehensive retrospective of Winogrand’s photography opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2013, and traveled to The Met in New York — which is where I saw it — as well as other venues. Seeing his work again — which had been so important to me as a college photo major — inspired me to wonder why there had never been a documentary about him.From Women And Hollywood, “SXSW 2018 Women Directors: Meet Sasha Waters Freyer…¨
The film marks a rising interest in Winogrand. His pictures appear all over Pinterest, and a Winogrand Flickr group has been in existence since 2006. Even a casual look at his work online shows the depth and breadth of his photographs. Set in the heart of the twentieth century, they capture a post-war America in transition. In many ways, America is still in the throes of that transition. How it will turn out no one can say, and that makes Winogrand’s work all the more relevant today.