On the Road

The work's incisiveness is all the more surprising because it feels so offhand, almost careless. Nothing much happens in a Winogrand photo; though many are suggestively anecdotal, few feel cinematic or narrative in any way. Instead, like great snapshots, they capture something lovely, evanescent, and vividly present in their subjects: a group of young girls in summer dresses walking along the side of an Arkansas highway, a man diving into a motel pool in Memphis, a woman in a bathing suit tending her front lawn in Los Angeles. Because many of these photos were taken from Winogrand's car, they're often framed by its windshield or broad side windows, but they rarely seem framed in the artistic sense. And even if we're conscious of the photographer at work, Winogrand maintains a rigorous artlessness; his pictures just seem to happen, and keep happening right before our eyes.

Capturing something lovely, evanescent, and vividly present in his subjects: Winogrand's Memphis (1964)
photo: From Winogrand 1964, Arena Editions
Capturing something lovely, evanescent, and vividly present in his subjects: Winogrand's Memphis (1964)

Details

Winogrand 1964
International Center of Photography
1133 Sixth Avenue
Through December 1

Both the show and the book open with a long list of 1964 events, from Beatlemania and the passing of the Civil Rights Act to Lenny Bruce's obscenity trial and the founding of the PLO. None of these things seem to have much effect on the mostly aimless citizens in Winogrand's photos. Although he photographed the memorials and the tourists in Dealey Plaza and captures George Wallace stepping out of a car at Dallas's Cotton Bowl Stadium, Winogrand preferred the incidental to the momentous. Yet his pictures never feel flimsy or unimportant, and their depth of feeling can be startling. We don't really know if Winogrand's journey reassured him about the integrity and strength of the American character; only a few of the pictures he made on the trip were exhibited while he lived, and never as part of this larger project. But there's plenty of evidence here that would have allayed his fear that "it just doesn't matter." And while he might have despaired that "we have not loved life," there's no question that Winogrand did.

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