Monday, December 6, 2010

Reflections on a Theme by Winogrand

Reflections on a Theme by Winogrand

I wanted to make it up to the city last week for Black Friday, but I had other commitments on that day. So, I ended up going up on Saturday, which was just about as good in terms of commerce-driven madness. It rained sporadically throughout the afternoon, and then cleared up before sunset. Wandering down Market into the sun, it was blinding. Not only was the sun in my eyes and reflecting off the glass walls of the building, light was bouncing up from the rain-slicked pavement. Looking into the viewfinder was like a glimpse into some video game where the developers had just discovered ray tracing and flares -- kind of gaudy, but also kinda magical.

I marched a block or so into the sun, and got several photos I loved, but the composition on this one was to my taste. Once I got home and looked at it, I realized that it was fairly similar (though of course, not as awesome) as one of my favorite Winogrand shots:

© Estate of Garry Winogrand - Los Angeles, California 1969

I was thinking a lot about Winogrand a lot this week, what with politics being so crazy and all, and this quote came to mind:

"Winogrand speaks of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 as a crucial episode in his life. During the days and nights when the issue remained in doubt he walked the streets, in despair out of fear for the life of his family and himself and his city, and from his own impotence to affect the outcome. Finally it came to him that he was nothing -- powerless, insignificant, helpess -- and that knowledge, he said, liberated him. He was nothing, so he was free to lead his own life."

-- John Sarkowski on Winogrand in Figments from the Real World.

Taking a photo like Winogrand's sidewalk shot requires a kind of liberation from what a photo 'ought' to be. It cuts to the heart of what makes street photography great to me. There is no way as an artist that you could conjure up this scene -- too much is random, too much is a violation of accepted rules about angles, tones, content, and general perfection of craft. But at the same time, this photo has a mad perfection to it that makes it undeniable. Winogrand saw this scene, and in one brief second, knew he had to take this exposure, and he got something that was just right because it wasn't just right. It took a mind and eye free of preconceptions to take, and the result is spectacular!

I guess my hope is that by seeing scenes where things are different (or maybe the same), I can figure out how to spot these moments better, where something magical is happening -- maybe without the perfect, almost Fight Club style nihilism that seemed to pervade Winogrand's attitude.


Back to my shot: As I was reviewing it for this post, I was reminded of the light in the eponymous shot for this blog: The Road from Damascus. Thumbing back through my images, I discovered that I took it exactly a year ago to the day before this image. In that case, it was my first trip shooting to the area around Powell and Market, and looking at the calendars on Flickr, it marks both the anniversary and start of my Saturday trips up to SF to do street photography.

Cautiously, I'd like to say I've improved over time. Looking at photos from last week, and comparing them from the set from a year ago, I do feel a lot better about the new ones, but it's always hard to distinguish between the excitement of something new with the colder detachment that comes with time.

Hopefully, the shooting will continue until morale improves.

1 comment:

  1. "Once I got home and looked at it, I realized that it was fairly similar (though of course, not as awesome) as one of my favorite Winogrand shots."

    It's an excellent picture I have to say! At the first glance I actually thought it was a Winogrand. Street photography par excellence. I dig the sun beams and the askew framing. Congratulations!