New York & Spain
Smartphone Women was 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 America’s streets but also many quintessential American moments, great and small. (More below image gallery…)
Click any image to see the full-sized photo images.
Why Smartphone Women
Winogrand’s collection Women Are Beautiful in particular inspired Smartphone Women. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Winogrand took pictures of women coming and going in the streets of New York City and a few other places. The pictures celebrate women during that first decade of modern feminism. Some critics, however, find them problematic at best and exploitative at worst. Not that they included nudes or anything risqué. Nor was there anything mocking or misogynistic. The problem for some was that Winogrand was appropriating the images of women for his own purposes, albeit artistic ones.
Of course, that’s what street photography does, appropriate images from public spaces. But street photography would never work if the photographer had to ask permission. The idea is to capture the subject in her moment and oblivious to the camera. Once she becomes conscious of it and poses, the moment dissipates and nothing’s left but a garden variety snapshot of a stranger. In street photography, the line between art and junk is a split second.
For me this problematic aspect makes Winogrand’s photos of women interesting. Men like to look at women, and they always have and always will. In the age of #MeToo, we tend to forget that men and women used to like each other, and like looking at each other. In the 1960s and ’70s, looking at each other was okay.
But aside from men/women thing, there’s another interesting cultural factor involved. Everybody likes to look at women. Their images seem to me to dominate modern visual media, whether it’s advertising, entertainment or art, by women or men, online or print. You are certainly more likely to see a woman on the cover of a women’s magazine. A nude photo or painting by a man or woman will most likely feature a female body. Our most enduring movie and television icons are women, from Bette Davis to Marilyn Monroe to Lucille Ball. And I expect that Michelle Obama will one day take her place in that pantheon of great ladies.
I think the female image began its rise in the early twentieth century, when photography and cinema took over the media environment. With their images everywhere, women could no longer be kept cloistered in the home. What role did this increasing ubiquity play in the liberation of women? It’s no coincidence that repressive patriarchies try to keep women out of sight and covered up.
In Smartphone Women, I sought to capture the dynamism I see in Winogrand’s photographs of women. They were not just women on the go, but the images themselves radiate energy, excitement and humor. By featuring the smartphone, I also tried to capture something of the zeitgeist of the twenty-first century, just as Winogrand’s photographs very much reflected the late 1960s and early 1970s. They portrayed women of their time, a very specific time in the American experience. My photographs very much reflect the early twenty-first century and its obsession with digital media.
In addition to photography, my poetry has also been inspired by Winogrand. In the midst of taking these pictures, I also wrote and published a poem called “When I Wanted To Be A Street Photographer Like Garry Winogrand.”