Garry Winogrand was a photographer. He shot on the street. He shot at airports. He shot at the zoo. He shot women. He shot men. He shot bandaged faces. He shot interracial couples. He shot animals. By his death in 1984, Winogrand had reportedly snapped over a million pictures, many of which were never even developed. Those that had made their way to the darkroom were stacked, floor to ceiling, in his New York apartment, amongst ash trays full of cigarettes and half-finished cups of coffee. Winogrand's admirers often liken him to the pure visual equivalent of Norman Mailer - this macho, masculine poet who found beauty in the mundane, and was in a constant state of existential crisis.
Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable is the first feature-length documentary attempt to approach the man who used the boulevards as his canvas. Before street-style photography became a major element of both fashion and art, Winogrand transformed his surroundings and the social issues of his time into expressive images. For Winogrand, each moment was an artistic opportunity, his camera becoming the reason for an event to exist, and not the other way around. Winogrand pioneered the "snapshot aesthetic" within the subjective photography realm - disregarding any semblance of economy for the notion that you had to fire off as many shots as possible to capture the exact right moment. He risked failure every time he used his frame, unafraid of the fact that most of what he was shooting was probably going to end up as unusable garbage.
All Things Are Photographable attempts to contextualize Winogrand's work within the times in which it was made. During the late '50s and '60s - when the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam Era were bringing about great social change in America - the photographer’s widescreen lens was there to burn these moments into our memories forever. Faces stare and shout at things outside of the frame, bodies are constantly in motion, the angle often Dutch and heavily tilted. Winogrand's photographs were chaotic because the times in which they were taken were in utter upheaval. But for all the movement, there's also stillness, representing a sad loneliness that all human beings (including the author) feel at many times during their lives. Director Sasha Waters Freyer does an incredible job presenting these stills in a motion picture, providing both academic experts and modern artists (such as Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner) to try and explain the power behind this man’s idiosyncratic images.
However, Winogrand wasn't above reproach, as his collection Women Are Beautiful was blasted for ostensibly promoting pure exploitation. This was where the truly masculine elements of his work acted against his best interests, as he attended feminist rallies seemingly only to snap pics of pretty girls. Winogrand wrote in his book, “Whenever I’ve seen an attractive woman, I’ve done my best to photograph her. I don’t know if all the women in the photographs are beautiful, but I do know that the women are beautiful in the photographs." In short, he was a premier practitioner of his own male gaze, for better and (in many cases) much worse. His fascinations could get him into trouble, just as easily as they could accurately document the moment in which Winogrand was existing.
All Things Are Photographable is a rather remarkable work, not so much due to Freyer's usage of the documentary form - which is really nothing more than a mix of talking head interviews, numerous examples of Winogrand's work, and snippets of chats with the deceased artist mixed into a giant montage - but because her subject is one that hasn't been explored so thoroughly on film in the past. While there's certainly a dryness to the finished product - the doc was produced in association with PBS's American Masters series, after all - All Things Are Photographable should still appeal to anyone intrigued by the ways in which the most gifted members of our society attempted to freeze their times in filmic amber, so the rest of us could study their points of view for genuine meaning and depth of feeling.
Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable will continue to screen at SXSW Tuesday, March 13th, at the Alamo Lamar (11:00 AM), and Thursday, March 15th, also at the Alamo Lamar (12:00 PM).