DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       October 2004  

 

Garry Winogrand's "The Animals"

Pace MacGill
32 E 57, 9th fl
New York, NY 10022
212-759-7999

By BRIAN APPEL

Garry Winogrand Couple at Zoo Looking at Each Other, Wolf in Cage, New York, from "The Animals" c.1962, silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 inches

"Place yourself where a lot is happening to get a lot of pictures," was the advice that Winogrand always gave his students. The man certainly followed his own advice.

I remember the first time I looked at Winogrand's "The Animals" as clearly as if it were yesterday - but it was 1975. I was sitting in a darkened room at The School of Art on the campus of The University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada and it was a slide from the book of the same name. It was my photography history class which I loved. At this point in the year, we had seen all the historically important photographers like Talbot, Brady and Hine. We were now looking at the "new" photography and the first image that came up was a picture of an attractive young couple talking to each other in front of a huge cage at the zoo. A white wolf was slowly creeping up to the couple who were leaning against the railing of a metal fence with their backs to the cage. They appeared to be oblivious to the presence of this menacing creature. I remember thinking how the picture telegraphed what was about to happen; the camera operator had been watching this event unfold and had taken the shot at a moment when everything was just so perfectly held in space and time so my imagination could fill in what was to transpire. Mr. McMillan, the photo teacher was letting the slide stay up as he answered questions which are a blur to me now, but during those couple of minutes that that glowing slide was up in that darkened room I remember how that image seduced me into looking.

The young lady's face was not available to the camera because she was turned toward her boyfriend but I could admire her beautiful long blonde hair and nicely shaped legs. I thought her shoes were so cool and she seemed so... available. I could almost smell her perfume and how that scent would float in my head with all the other smells of the animals at the zoo. And the guy she was with -- he looked evil to me. He had his left arm resting on the rail of the fence behind her and he had his hand inches from her butt. The right eye on his face was in dark shadow because her head was so close to his and the bright light from a high sun was bleaching out his skin making him look like some kind of vampire with an eye patch. The connection between his body language and the body language of the white wolf was unmistakable. Both were stalking this beautiful, naive girl.

Garry Winogrand, from "The Animals" c.1962, silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 inches

In an interview with Barbara Diamondstein, from "Visions and Images: American Photographers on Photography", Rizzoli, 1982, Winogrand reminisced; "When I was a kid in New York I used to go to the zoo. I always liked the zoo. I grew up within walking distance of the Bronx zoo. And then when my first two children were young I used to take them to the zoo. Zoos are always interesting. And I make pictures. Actually, the animal pictures came about in a funny way. I made a few shots. If you could see those contact sheets, they're mostly of the kids and maybe a few shots where I'm just playing. And at some point I realized something was going on in some of the pictures, so then I worked at it".

Work at it he did. "The Animals" provides an engaged viewer with a high concept, satiric potboiler foregrounded with characters as realistic and psychologically vivid as any of the best of Hitchcock's movies - all done while working within the documentary tradition. His supreme focus on gesture that identify character together with his revolutionary usage of wide angle lenses, finding interconnectedness between people and their environments turned the artist into a star.

Winogrand inherited his commitment to observation and an eye for the ability to discover the coherence and simultaneity of multiple actions and gestures from his early connection with late 30's radical journalism of the New York Photo League and his fifteen year stint as a photo journalist and advertising photographer. He later acknowledged a debt to the photographer and art director/teacher Alexey Brodovitch who he studied with at the New School in New York. Walker Evan's "American Photographs", 1938 and Robert Frank's "The Americans", 1959 were windows which pointed him to his oeuvre. His contemporaries and acquaintances Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson and John Szarkowski were of the first to appreciate his material and acknowledge his genius.

Winogrand went on to create three other magnificent books published along with his exhibitions during his all-too-short lifetime [he died of a gall-bladder cancer in 1984 at 56 years old]; "Women Are Beautiful", 1975, an 85-image encyclopedic collection of pictures of women in public places, "Public Relations", 1977 a 74-image, "Chaucerian" inquiry into the nutty carnival of what the artist called "the effect of media on events", and "Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo", 1980, a compendium of 170 black and white photographs of rodeo and show contestants and their wives and girlfriends. In April of this year, 84 images comprising "Arrival and Departures - The Airport Pictures of Garry Winogrand", was posthumously published by the University of Arizona edited by Alex Harris and Lee Friedlander. Travelers, flight attendants, airport waiting rooms and air planes on runways comprise this compendium. Along the way, Winogrand received a total of three Guggenheim grants, a National Endowment of the Arts Award, numerous exhibitions [ten of which have been at the Museum of Modern Art in New York], and published five limited edition portfolios.

Peter Macgill from the Pace/Macgill Gallery and Jeffrey Fraenkel from the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco and estate of the artist have joined forces to bring New Yorkers this magnificent re-presentation of the original series first shown by curatorial guru John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art, thirty-five years ago this October. More than half the pristine gelatin silver prints at Pace/Macgill are "vintage" [printed within three years of exposure by the artist] - the rest are excellent "printed later" prints ca. 1970's.

This extraordinarily fine, sanguine show will refresh your memory and hunger for the unique power of the medium of photography.


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