The master street photographer Gary Winogrand who left us in 1984--too soon at the age of 56, was able to make art out of single fleeting moments that most of us don't even notice as we make our busy way to work, to the coffee shop, to the train, not bothering to look up in the morning rush, the rush home, the rush to weekend plans, the rush through life.
This is a tension I currently feel in my creative life: when I was younger, with less responsibility perhaps, I used to actively observe more, watch human behavior, notice subtle interactions in the world around me. I had more time on my hands, but this was also before the age of iPhones and apps, which largely take up everyone's concentration and this "nothing" time, the seemingly dead moments between things that most of us try to fill up with busy-ness, with productiveness, or at least with incessantly checking Instagram (just me?) all while wearing that feeling of being busy as a badge of honor. And yet now, that very (iPhone) object that monopolizes my attention contains a tiny decent camera that I keep with me at all times, and thus ironically I am more capable of snapping immediate moments, street photographs, and catching spontaneous beauty that is gone forever, save for the image I made.
In the past I never felt much camaraderie with that generation of classic street photographers and photojournalists. My taste always leaned towards the work of visionary portrait and fashion photography where a reality was constructed as much as it was observed. But in recent years I find myself equally drawn to the disarming truth the best documentary work has captured for all of us to witness, the seemingly ephemeral truths that will endure after we too are gone. Lately, with the knowledge of this small camera at hand, I have found myself looking around again, and every now and then I have been able to grab some wonderful unguarded scene; my brother swimming in a watering hole upstate with one of his daughters, the glimpse of a well-placed telephone pole and old car as I leave a bar in a night parking lot, a girl touching a boy's newly shaved head as a square of sunlight falls on them both at the bottom of a stair case.
Winogrand's street photographs echo and rebound with other images of his era: Robert Frank's The Americans that ushered in the change about to hit our country in the 1960's, and abroad the stripped-down creative rebellion of the French New Wave filmmakers, breathless images photographed by Godard and Truffaut in glorious black and white light. Winogrand's world was even mirrored strangely by Catherine Deneuve's listless secretary wandering the streets of Polanski's great film Repulsion.
Jack Kerouac famously said about Frank's off the cuff snapshot of a lonely elevator girl --"What's her name and address?" He was smitten by her dreamy gaze and a story of her he could only imagine. Winogrand's photos are full of these women, leaving us to tell our own stories, and maybe even just a little, to fall in love. Women Are Beautiful is the name of Winogrand's 1975 monograph of these romantically un-romantic street portraits. It is a wonderfully apt title. People will always be beautiful, if someone is paying attention.