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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Just 2 viewing weekends left—“Garry Winogrand,” at SFMOMA, closes, along with the museum building, on June 2, 2013

Arguably one of the most prolific photographers of our time, Garry Winogrand’s first retrospective in 25 years, is at SFMoMA through June 2, 2013.  Garry Winogrand, Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952; gelatin silver print; collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Arguably one of the most prolific photographers of our time, Garry Winogrand’s first retrospective in 25 years, is at SFMoMA through June 2, 2013. Garry Winogrand, Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952; gelatin silver print; collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

“For me the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film,” said American photographer Garry Winogrand, “if, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better.”  When Winogrand’s life was cut short by cancer in 1984 at age 56, he was already widely acknowledged as one American’s most influential photographers, particularly known for his vivid chronicling of the social landscape of post-war American life.   While he loathed the off-used label “snapshot photographer” and felt that “street photographer” imposed too narrow a lens on his work, those are the names that stuck.  He too, had always been known as a “prolific shooter,” but just how prolific was utterly shocking to those left to sort out his legacy. He left behind a staggering amount of unprocessed as well as unedited work.  More than 2,500 rolls of exposed but underdeveloped film were found, plus an additional 4,100 rolls that he had processed but never seen—an estimated total of 250,000 images that have remained virtually unknown. Suddenly, there was a lot more to consider when examining the oeuvre of the acclaimed photographer of New York City and of American Life from the 1950s through the early 1980s.

An important exhibition at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which closes on June 2—the first major touring exhibition in 25 years of Garry Winogrand—does just that.  Garry Winogrand, an expansive retrospective of some 300 images, brings together Winogrand’s most iconic images with newly printed photographs from the never seen archive of his later work.  Included are photographs from Winogrand’s travels around the United States as well as his better known New York City images.  The exhibition was organized by photographer and author, Leo Rubinfien, a long-time close friend of Winnogrand,  in collaboration with SFMOMA curator Erin O’Toole and Sarah Greenough of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where it will travel after its run in San Francisco, followed by New York, Paris, and Madrid.  With SFMOMA’s expansion project getting seriously underfoot this summer, the building itself will close its doors on June 2, so now is the time to visit SFMOMA and pay your respects to its Third Street Botta palazzo.

Winogrand took this photo 1 year before he died. Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1980-83; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand took this photo 1 year before he died. Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1980-83; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The majority of photographs in the Winnogrand exhibition were printed by Winogrand or under his supervision by Thomas Consilvio or Paul McDonough.  The rest were made after his death, with the majority of those printed in 2012-13 in Tuscon, Arizona, by Teresa Engle Schrimer.  All are silver gelatin prints.

The exhibition  is organized in three categories—

“Down from the Bronx”— presents photographs taken for the most part in New York from Winnogrand’s start in 1950 until he left New York in 1971. Winogrand came from that “rude part” of NY, explained Rubinfien, which caused him to say late in his life,“I came from the Bronx. I was goosh. I was so goosh, I didn’t know the word goosh.”

Erin O’Toole discusses Winogrand’s early work

“A Student of America” looks at work made in the same period, 1950 to 1971, during journeys he made outside New York.  This is an expression Winogrand used to describe himself.  “One day I was walking along 57th street with him,” explained Rubinfien, “and he said, talking about himself, ‘You could say I am a student of photography, and I am that, but really I am student of America.’  What he meant by that, I think, is that his photographs were an investigation in which he tried to understand what made this country most itself.”

20.Garry Winogrand, Albuquerque, 1957; gelatin silver print; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Garry Winogrand, Albuquerque, 1957; gelatin silver print; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“Boom and Bust” addresses Winogrand’s late period—from after he moved away from New York in 1971 until his death in 1984—with photographs from Texas and Southern California, as well as Chicago, Washington, Miami, and other locations. Also included are a small number of photographs Winogrand made on trips back to Manhattan, which express a sense of desolation unprecedented in his earlier work.

“The bust, of course” said Rubinfien, “was the great malaise the nation itself experienced in the 1970’s, after its greatest modern boom. It was also Winogrand’s own decline, which turned out to be real. John Sarkowsky was not wrong about that.   If you looked at his top ten contact sheets in the 1960’s, you might find two or three strong pictures in a single roll of film.  By 1982, you might have to go through 50 rolls to find one. He himself was straining very hard to do the thing that he had done interestingly and easily before.”

Posthumous Editing

The exhibition has attracted a great deal of attention in photography circles because it includes works that Winogrand never saw in his lifetime but were selected posthumously by Rubinfine.  Over 9o posthumous prints made from Rubinfein’s selections and drawn from the full span of Wingroand’s career are on view.  The wall labels for these prints indicate whether Wingrand marked a given frame on its contact sheet, suggesting he found it to be of interest.  In a gargantuan effort lasting several years, Rubinfien assessed not only the 6,600 rolls of late work that the photographer never reviewed himself but all 22,000 of his contact sheets in his archive at the Center for Photgraphy at the University of Arizona, Tuscon—starting with images from the beginning of Winogrand’s career in 1950 that he marked but didn’t print.  Rubinfien and the curatorial staff argue they are on solid ethical ground because Winogrand had a strong history of delegation.   Their effort also found precedent in MoMA’s 1988 exhibition “Garry Winogrand,” the first major retrospective of Winogrand’s work which included a small group of prints made by Colsilvio from late images selected by John Sarkowsky, director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, and by Winogrand’s friends and colleagues, photographers Tod Papageorge and Thomas Roma.

“This was a man who loved shooting more than anyone else…he wanted to be outside more than anything else and did not want to be sitting in a room editing his work, “ said Rubinfien. “Beyond that, he had a fundamental discomfort with bringing his work to resolution in books and shows. A result was that the work that was published in his lifetime in a series of five books, was highly topical. The books were done in a rather ad hoc way…a book on women one year (Women are Beautiful (1975)) and another on animals (The Animals (1969)), or political events (Public Relations (1977)) and, as a result, what we inherited was a picture of Winogrand in which he himself was siloed according to a number of topical categories. What this show tries to do is to break that down and give you the view of the full epic sweep of Winogrand’s work.”

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1983; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1983; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

At the press preview, Rubinfein explained that he was largely motivated to explore this later body of work due to distinguished MoMA curator John Sarkowsky’s pronouncement, after organizing Winogrand’s first major retrospective in 1988, that Winogrand’s later work wasn’t very good.  In preparation for that show, Sarkowsky had personally reviewed some and edited a large number of Winogrand’s photographs from the last six years of his life and from the six years before that—basically the work from 1971 on, from the time he moved away from New York into expatriation in Texas.

“I was intensely interested in seeing what Winogrand had done in those years,” said Rubinfien…”In some ways Texas and Los Angeles, in particular, seemed like a natural location in which the work might culminate because it was so much the headquarters of the sprawling vulgarity in this country—it was so much the place you’d go to see where freedom went when it went too far.   So, when that show finally went up, I was distressed and dismayed to read John Sarkowsky’s verdict of the work that Winogrand had lost his talent after leaving New York in 1971 and that he work he had done after that was not very good, but repetitive and lazy.  I had no way of knowing whether that was true, not having not seen the work, so I thought that someone should go back and look again.  Even Sarkowsky said that in his essay.  Around 2001, I thought if no one else did this, I would take it on.”

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, New York, ca. 1951; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, New York, ca. 1951; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“Some argue that what was left behind should be left alone, and that no one should intrude upon the intentions of an artist,” adds Rubinfien. “But the quantity of Winogrand’s output, the incompleteness with which he reviewed it, and the suddenness of his death create a special case in which the true scope of an eminent photographer’s work cannot be known without the intervention of an editor.”  Leo Rubinfien discusses Winnogrand’s late work on view for the first time at SFMOMA

Details: Garry Winogrand closes June 2, 2013.  The last day to visit the current building is June 2, 2013.  SFMoMA, (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is located at 151 Third Street, between Mission and Howard, San Francisco. Hours: Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; closed Wednesday; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.; Friday-Sunday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.  Admission: SFMOMA members are free. Tickets: Adults $18, seniors (62 and older) $13, students (with current ID) $11, active U.S. military personnel and their families are free, children 12 and under accompanied by an adult are free; half-price admission Thursday evenings 6-8:45 p.m.; the first Tuesday of each month is free.

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May 25, 2013 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review-“Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” a capitvating study of how The Americans came to be, SFMOMA May 16, 2009 – August 23, 2009

Robert Frank, Parade—Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955; gelatin silver print; 8 3/8 x 12 3/4 in.; Private collection, San Francisco; © Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Parade—Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955; gelatin silver print; 8 3/8 x 12 3/4 in.; Private collection, San Francisco; © Robert Frank

“To Robert Frank, I now give this message: You got eyes.”  Jack Kerouac. 

Now in its final two weeks, SFMOMA’s fantastic exhibition “Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Americans, one of photography’s most influential books.  The Americans is an unforgettable suite of black and white photographs that Frank made on a cross country road trip as a Guggenheim Fellow in 1955-56 that changed photography with its somber depiction of America, calling to question its postwar optimism and very wholesomeness.  Not only was Frank’s view of America bleak, his black and white prints were often fuzzy, grainy and off-kilter in composition, nothing like what was commonly seen in newspapers and leading magazines.  But the pictures he took in two years of roaming the country resonated with deep unspoken truths, foreshadowing the social upheaval that would later come. 

 “Looking In” is an art-historical feat that not only delves into every aspect of The American’s story; it shows us how far the photography retrospective has come in terms of comprehensive research.  All 83 photos that were published in the original volume are present, including a full set of Frank’s contact sheets, a reconstruction of Frank’s image selection process, his early work leading up to the essay, his later reuse of these famous images, a new film by Frank and a segment on photographers who have been influenced by him.  SFMOMA is the show’s only West Coast venue before it moves on to the Metropolitan Museum in September, 2009.

The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the premiere center for the study of his art, and spearheaded by its senior photography curator, Sarah Greenough, who has organized several important Frank shows over the years. Corey Keller, SFMOMA Associate Curator of Photography, organized the show’s San Francisco leg.  In 1990, Frank donated a large portion of his archives from his 40 years of work to The National Gallery—making it the first time it collected the work of a living photographer—over 3,000 strips of negatives,  1,000 rare vintage and work prints, his rarest handmade book, and 2,296 contact sheets. Around that time, the National Gallery also increased its commitment to exhibiting photography by adding a wing that would permanently display the works of important photographers.

The American’s iconic status lies both in the work itself and what it has come to symbolize.  Very much a product of his time, Frank, with his unique Swiss-émigré outsider’s vision–saw and gave expression to important undercurrents that were brewing across America—racism, poverty, a culture of consumerism, shady politics and growing disconnection, alienation.  Frank photographed the same America that everyone lived in and knew, but with an outsider’s perspective, drawn to and identifying with outsiders.  As the catalogue discusses, he dismissed the notion of making individual masterpieces early in his career and instead focused on the sequencing of a suite of photos whose collective message was greater than any individual picture could be. 

Robert Frank, Political Rally—Chicago, 1956; gelatin silver print; 23 1/4 x 14 3/8 in.; Collection Betsy Karel; © Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Political Rally—Chicago, 1956; gelatin silver print; 23 1/4 x 14 3/8 in.; Collection Betsy Karel; © Robert Frank

Not that single images from the book haven’t risen to become icons but his emphasis was on sequencing and creating a collective that added up to more than any single image.  This communicated his vision and gave anyone looking at these images an invitation to step into the work, into this collage of a nation, and to embark upon their own private act of sequencing. 

The permanence of the book format was also essential—unlike an exhibition which had an end date and was geographically accessible to only a few, if you had access to the book, you could take this vision in again and again, letting it chew, nag and grow on you.  Walking through the SFMOMA show, we can’t help but revisit our own individually-held notions of America, ideas born in our childhood and formative years, experiences that live inside us and bind us to each other as Americans.  I found myself often overwhelmed with deep unexpected feelings of tenderness, sadness, and recollections of my childhood in the 1960’s in Petaluma, once a small rural chicken-farming community.

Early Work, 1941-1952

The show opens with Frank’s early essays of sequenced photos and does a very good job of showing how he honed his photographic eye.  Frank, now 85, was born in Switzerland in 1924 and was a young admirer of Henry Cartier Bresson and André Kertész.   By the time he arrived in New York in 1947, at age 22, he already had enough experience in photography to garner prominent commercial assignments from Alexey Brodovitch, the legendary art director at Harper’s Bazar.   Frank quickly grew tired of the commercial work and set out to explore Paris, London, Wales, Spain, Italy and Peru.  In each place, he produced works that focused on one or two topics that expressed his understanding of the people and their unique culture.  He also made three books of hand-bound photographs, experimenting with vital sequencing techniques that would pay off in The Americans.  This part of the exhibition demonstrates that, from early on, Frank challenged the viewer to look at the unorthodox in the ordinary, shedding light on things that were often overlooked.   

Guggenheim Fellowship, 1955-1957

A highlight is the detailed look at Frank’s grant application to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation that supported his work.  Frank was no wizard with words and initially he produced an awkward one-page written summary of the project.  Photographer Walker Evans, who he met in 1950, was an accomplished writer who had penned over twenty book and film reviews.  Evans contributed enormous editorial clarity and direction to Frank’s original application, turning one page into four and capturing the essence of Frank’s work and project.  As a past Guggenheim fellow himself, Evans was a member of the foundation’s advisory committee and not only did he rewrite Frank’s application but he wrote his own independent letter of recommendation for Frank and, when it was time, voted to grant the fellowship.  Frank’s draft application and a transcription of the final copy of the 1954 application are on exhibit. 

Also included in this section are also two early manuscript versions of Jack Kerouac’s introduction to the book which was first published with little fanfare in November 1958 in France by Robert Delpire under the title Les Americains as part of their Encyclopédie essentielle series, which presented foreign countries to a French audience.  Frank had fretted over the book’s introductory text, wanting it to set the correct tone for his work which he wanted designated as a serious art book.   When his friend filmmaker Emile de Antonio suggested that he and Jack Kerouac, the fresh voice of the Beat generation, had a similar vision, Frank asked Kerouac to write his essay.  Much to Kerouac’s and Frank’s surprise, the American editor, Barney Rosset of Grove Press, chose Kerouac’s second and longer essay, not the spontaneous, smoothly flowing one that accompanied had the French release. (Looking In, softcover edition, p.139.)  It’s fascinating to pour over the two essays and contemplate their nuances.

Several of Kerouac’s oft-quoted lines from the American edition capture the essence of the Frank’s work—

The faces don’t editorialize or criticize or saya anything but “this is the way we are in real life and if you don’t like it I don’t know anything about it cause I am living my own life my way and may God bless us all.”

“anybody doesn’t like potry go home see Televisin shots of big hated cowboys being tolerated by kind horses.”

The American publisher, Grove Press, did an initial run of 2,600 copies on January 15, 1960, though the book was dated 1959.  This was 4.5 years after Frank had received his first Guggenheim grant.   Frank received a $200 advance for the book while Kerouac got $30 for his introduction. (Looking In, softcover edition, p.139.)   The book’s bold cover design bearing similarity to the American flag was done by painter Alfred Leslie who at the time was working with Frank, Kerouac and Ginsberg on the film “Pull my Daisy.” 

 Robert Frank, Guggenheim 340/Americans 18 and 19—New Orleans, November 1955, 1955; contact sheet; 10 x 8 1/16 in.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, gift of Robert Frank; © Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Guggenheim 340/Americans 18 and 19—New Orleans, November 1955, 1955; contact sheet; 10 x 8 1/16 in.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, gift of Robert Frank; © Robert Frank

During Frank’s nine-month road trip across America, he took 767 rolls of film (more than 27,000 images) and made over 1,000 work prints.  The curators give us experimental prints, contact sheets and a very good discussion surrounding the book’s layout, including a fabulous book wall showing the development of the sequencing of photos presented in work print collages.  Frank actually took a year editing, selecting and sequencing these photographs and the mock-up process ultimately yielded additional fluidity.  Frank gracefully knitted together urban and rural, black and white, military and civilian and poor, rich and middle classes in ways they had not been seen before. 

The Americans

All 83 prints are presented in their original sequence with several large rare vintage prints.  With their grainy, gritty, shadowy and tilted frames, composed at odd angles, these photos rewrote the rules of photography.  The standard emphasis in the 1950’s of photojournalism or street photography on single summary images, mainly wholesome images, shot straight on. 

Robert Frank, Charleston, South Carolina, 1955; gelatin silver print; 16 1/4 x 23 1/4 in.; Collection of Susan and Peter MacGill; © Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Charleston, South Carolina, 1955; gelatin silver print; 16 1/4 x 23 1/4 in.; Collection of Susan and Peter MacGill; © Robert Frank

Frank used a quiet hand-held Leica and his compositions were greatly influenced by the fact that he was often shooting from his car.   What emerged was an immensely poetic portrait of mainly ordinary people going about their business, waiting in lines, moving from one place to another, gathering, resting.  A lot of the faces are heartbreaking, lonely, even empty, but the shots are not about sadness per se they are about getting through what unfolds on any ordinary day in America.  A black woman in Charleston, South Carolina, leans against a wall as she holds a white infant in her arms, staring out into space, the child looks in another direction.  Four adults stand at a distance looking at a dead victim of a car accident wrapped in a blanket on US Route 66 at Flagstaff, AZ.  The lower, middle and upper classes are all captured in moments of emptiness, moving monotonously back and forth, and towards death, in the land of plenty.

After “The Americans”

The final section of the exhibition address the impact The Americans had on Frank’s subsequent work.   The book was initially critcized as anti-American but during the 1960’s, as many of the issues that Frank had alluded to literally exploded,  The American’s came to be regarded as ahead of its time and attracted a cultlike following from many within the art world.  Fame did not sit well with Frank and he became increasingly reclusive.  Soon after the book was published, he put away still photography and switched to a film for a good decade; since the 1970’s, he has moved back and forth between the two, carrying insights from one medium into the other.  His first film “Pull My Daisy” (1959), co-directed with Alfred Leslie with narration by Jack Kerouac, showcased the Beats and also managed to capture the contemporary pulse. The film proved significant and liberating for independent filmmakers in its unpolished rambling form. 

A catalogue to keep you louping

The catalog is exceptional and is offered in two different editions, both authored by Sarah Greenough who has been working on this project since Frank’s Moving Out show in 1994. The softcover edition ($45, 396 pages, 6 4-color, 168 tritone and 210 duotone images)  includes reproductions of all the works in the exhibition, along with essays from Sarah Greenough, Stuart Alexander, Philip Brookman, Michel Frizot, Martin Gasser, Jeff Rosenheim, Luc Sante, and Ann Wilkes Tucker exploring most facets of the work.   The hardcover edition ($75, 528 pages, 108 4-color, 168 tritone and 210 duotone images) is a breathtaking expanded edition that includes all the material in the softcover, plus additional essays, a map, a comparative chart of the various published editions including notations on the various croppings from each edition, and—get your loupes– it reproduces 83 actual size contact sheets, each of which features a frame from the final edit.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment