The pictures were unprompted and crooked. They were candid and chaotic. But they were unmistakably American.
The photography of Garry Winogrand crystalized in black and white the smallest moments of city life, capturing everyday pedestrians, beggars, shopkeepers and drivers across the postwar United States.
Though popular in his day, he became an artist lost to time not long after his death in 1984. After 1988, his work saw no major domestic exhibitions for over 20 years. But a 2013 retrospective that toured from San Francisco to New York inspired Sasha Waters Freyer, chair of photography and film at VCUarts, to take on a new project.
“He fell out of fashion a bit,” she says, “until the big retrospective in 2013. And that’s when I revisited the work, and wondered why there hadn’t been a film about him.”
Five years later, Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable premiered at SXSW, winning the Special Jury prize and a U.S. distribution deal. Directed, produced and edited by Freyer, All Things Are Photographable is the first feature-length documentary about the artist.
Through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Winogrand was beyond prolific. He snapped so many pictures that, upon his death, he left behind thousands of rolls of undeveloped film. In researching his life, Freyer pored over nearly a million photos, and hours of home movies and audio tapes.
“In some ways, he was the first ‘digital’ photographer,” says Freyer, “shooting and shooting and shooting, and embracing failure.”
Winogrand spoke about his art often, with blunt terms, and in a boorish Bronx accent. He detested the term “street photographer.” The “stupid” name, said Winogrand, didn’t explain anything about his work. He was a photographer on the street—but his subject was the changing face of America, a nation embroiled in protest, fame, sex and mundanity.
His photographs of city life reflected the spontaneity and grit of his era. The twentieth century was the first to be captured beginning-to-end by the undiscriminating eye of the camera. Photography was an instantaneous and honest medium for the lightning-fast modern era.
“Photography today,” says Freyer, “more than any other medium, shapes how we think about our world.”
But like the streets he trawled, Winogrand was rough around the edges, and his shortcomings stick out in the #MeToo era. His romantic relationships were fraught, and his 1975 book Women Are Beautiful continues to draw ire for its exploitative photos.
Grappling with the artistic legacies of “complicated male artists,” says Freyer, is one of the ways she envisions her film engaging with contemporary conversations about masculinity, authorship and sexuality.
“Freyer gives us Winogrand, warts and all,” said Christopher Llewellyn Reed for Hammer to Nail, “and clearly shows us why he made a difference.”
During the production of All Things Are Photographable, Freyer was awarded $35,000 from the Derek Freese Film Foundation to complete the project. It is set to make its broadcast premier on PBS’s American Masters series in 2019. It will make its Virginia premier on Friday, September 7, 2018 at 6:30pm at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.