Garry Winogrand: Public Relations

I have decided to look at the work of American street photographer Garry Winogrand, after coming across his book Public Relations in the library the other day. Which after reading more about the series and Winogrand's other work, has given me plenty of inspiration for my ideas with the relationship project. 

New York, 1969
Winogrand created his street photographs across America using his characteristic 28mm lens. Because of this he had to get very close to the often reluctant subjects he was photographing. For example in the image above taken in New York of the couple and the girl walking past, we see that the two women both are very aware of Winogrand and although there is a tough feeling to this photograph it evokes a gentle sense of curiosity. Winogrand's images often capture the very instant that his subject's notice him, and they often leave you wanting to know what happened after these moments where the subjects registered his presence. 

What interests me about this approach is the way Winogrand made himself part of his images to get a reaction from his subjects. This to me is similar to the methods of Arbus and Gilden , although there is something less aggressive about Winogrand's approach. I read that Diane Arbus described Winogrand as "an instinctive, nearly primitive ironist, so totally without mailce, so unflinching, even cheerful". This to me reveals that Winogrand's interaction with his subjects was more to do with an elation he felt in catching people in this way, rather than trying to provoke people to the extent that Gilden and Arbus would have done for their more gritty images. 

Central Park Zoo, New York, 1967
As Arbus mentioned his work was very much about irony, in terms of capturing people in ways we wouldn't expect to see them. In the photograph above for example with the interracial couple holding chimpanzees, no one would have expected to see this couple at this time choosing to confront and parody the racist antagonism they would have received towards their relationship. The framing I think is particularly clever in this with the inclusion of this boy in the bottom right corner, who looks similarly as anxious as the two chimpanzees dressed up like humans. 

In 1969 Winogrand was awarded his second Guggenheim Fellowship to photograph "the effect of the media on events". He assumed that this was referring to what Daniel J. Boorstin described as "pseudo-events" in his book "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America". Which discusses the role of media events in American society and the hyperreality of events existing purely for publicity. Winogrand later named this series Public Relations which went on to be exhibited at MoMa   in 1977.

In this series of images by Winogrand he uses his wide lens to capture how organisations and famous people maintain their public image for mass media. He did this by photographing election campaigns, press conferences, museum openings, receptions, protests and strikes. Depicting all aspects of these public and private events designed to be documented. 

The more technical elements of this series really interests me as compositionally his use of a wider lens and tilting the frame creates a really intriguing style that I think says something more about his subject matter. The tilting of the frame for example, that slants walls and tilts the smiling attendees of these events I think communicates how these pseudo-events lack a certain amount of reality. As they are incredibly one sided in existing solely for the purposes of presenting an image to the media. These wider shots also have individual impact as more is able to fill the frame and therefore an event can often be summed up by Winogrand in one image. 

Above one of my favourite photographs from the series that I came across in the book of Public Relations by Winogrand. What I like so much about it is this alternative perspective it gives of a press conference, as normally the photographs we see from conferences are of the people answering the questions. There is also a very strange dynamic in this scene as there is this energetic seeming woman asking a question who is surrounded by lacklustre people; many of whom despite looking at her don't appear to be listening to her. 

I also think there is something intriguing about this scene as although we know the context of this press conference (Nation Book Awards), it appears to be in a very grand place yet there is such a lifeless energy in this room. Which is added to by the number of empty seats that Winogrand has included in the frame, rather than taking the shot closer to the people to make the event seem more popular or successful.

What interests me so much about Public Relations is the variety of social dynamics that Winogrand was able to explore through capturing these events. It has left me feeling very interested in the ways that we come together in acts that allow our society to celebrate itself.

The events that Winogrand was able to capture in the late 60s and early 70s I feel no longer exist in the same way today or have quite the same narrative potential nowadays. However I feel as though this is something I should think about more and explore with my work, particularly in regards to other hyperrealities that exist in today's society. The effects of social media on relationships comes to mind. However I feel as though I would need to find a very unique way to approach that subject matter. 



"The city was his territory, the night was his sphere. Weegee listened in on police communications over the radio and usually reached the crime scene long before the professional reporters. His images illuminate the depths of human existence and the psyche of individuals as much as they do social denomination. His style is characterised by a brutal realism which relies less on compositional precision. Hard contrasts determine his pictures. Even when, on the surface, this is the result of circumstances that had to be reproduced in daily tabloids, it reflects - perhaps involuntarily - his artistic nature." - Klaus Honnef

After loving and reading about the work of Ed Van Der Elsken I learnt that he was greatly inspired by the work of Weegee. As I loved Van Der Elsken's work so much I had to look at Weegee's and honestly I cannot believe I had never heard of him also as his work is just brilliant. 

Weegee was the pseudonym used by Austrian photographer and photojournalist Arthur Fellig. His most prolific work was produced in the late 1930s and 40s of the people of New York. His work as a photojournalist specialised in photographing accidents and crime scenes, and his method for this was through listening to police communications on his portable police-band shortwave radio. So that he would be the first photographer on the scenes. 

To begin my research I looked through Weegee's first book Naked City, which when published was an instant success. It includes his crime scene photographs with his own comments alongside describing some of the events. It also features other photographs taken of the people of New York such as crowds at Coney Island, lovers on the beach and high society members at the opera. It is clear when reading this book that Weegee is in love with New York, and I think this is what makes his photographs of the city so special. That he was completely immersed within the workings of his city and he had it firmly under his grasp. His commitment was incredible the way he would obsessively listen to police communications and eagerly photograph the city at all hours, capturing copious walks of life. It is obvious that this approach very much inspired the approach Ed Van Der Elsken took in photographing the post war Parisian Bohemians in his photographs. 

"News photography teaches you to think fast, to be sure of yourself, self confidence. When you go out on a story, you don’t go back for another sitting. You gotta get it.” - Weegee

When reading Naked City I found the chapter called Murders particularly moving. Despite using his characteristically blinding flash bulb for these photographs of corpses and crime scene onlookers, Weegee captured sensitively how people dealt collectively with these criminal exploitations of the human condition. What he conveys powerfully is that despite how hardened a big city like New York may seem, when these tragedies of the human condition do occur what we are left with is pure helplessness. No matter what systems are in place to manage these kinds of circumstances. What is clear in these photographs of the people observing these crime scenes together is that they are in fact no longer together, as people deal with these horrific circumstances visibly in such different ways. 

Weegee's photographs in general are very much intimate pieces even when filled with people. The closeness in terms of proximity to where Weegee positioned himself in front of his subjects and the bright flash bulb creates this intimacy in his images. As it catches people in a way where they cannot hide themselves. In his crime scene photographs especially it is clear that Weegee finds beauty in his often raw subject matter, even if that beauty isn't appreciated by those who view his photographs. I think that beauty to Weegee is when people are at their most exposed, showing only what is true of them in those moments. This is demonstrated well in his crime scene photographs as I imagine many wouldn't see these photographs as particularly beautiful works of art because the subject matter is very distressing. However Weegee loved his city and the people who inhabited it, he was a humanist photographer who was eager to capture all of faculties of human life, because human life excited him. 

A series of Weegee's photographs that also interested me is titled 'Movie Theatres' and consists of photographs taken inside cinemas of people watching films. This subject matter really interests me because there are so many different kinds of relationships bunched into these settings. People bring their close friends, lovers and families to sit in a room with strangers and watch a film. The variety of social dynamics in these dark spaces is really interesting to view through Weegee's infrared camera  images, which captured his subjects unposed in these packed spaces. 

What I think is really special in looking at these photographs today is that nothing has really changed since the 1940s. We still go to cinemas in this way to disappear into a film for a few hours. Even though many of these images are quite blurry and the composition isn't always brilliant, these candid photographs are so evocative of how these people were with each other and themselves. Which makes them particularly potent and intimate to peer into as a viewer. 

"Here's my formula - dealing as I do with human beings, and I find them wonderful: I leave them alone and let them be themselves - holding hands with love-light in their eyes-sleeping-or merely walking down the street. The trick is to be where the people are. One doesn't need a scenario or shooting script, all one needs to do is to be on the spot, alert and human. One never knows what will happen." - Weegee

Reading about Weegee's philosophy and approach to his work has been really inspiring to me in terms of my own thoughts and ideas, in approaching the subject matter of relationships with my own photography. Because Weegee was a freelance photographer he really had to work to get shots that he could sell to newspapers. What this has taught me about photojournalism in particular is just how important the decisive moment is as time is so fleeting. Particularly during the kinds of events Weegee photographed such as crime scenes and fires. Scenes like these will only happen once so you need to be there and ready to get those shots when the situation arises. 

This has made me think a lot more about the kinds of opportunities I will be able to get to take candid photographs like this. Weegee's work was so incredible because he had such a strong eagerness and commitment to photographing his subject matter, that he would be up at any hours necessary to do it. His work has also made me realise that nowhere is too boring to photograph and even though Weegee was in the cultural oasis of New York he still went and found his own opportunities to make interesting photographs. Even when photographing events where there were lots of photographers he would always try to photograph something less obvious that no one else would be shooting. 

Looking at Weegee's work has inspired me to broaden my thoughts a lot more with my potential subject matter for this project, and also to start shooting whenever I can. My main issue last term I felt was that I was being reserved with my photography for a lot of reasons, but now I think I need to push myself a lot more because it's going to give me a lot more room for development. 


Ed van der Elsken: Love on the Left Bank

When first presented with The Relationship brief I have to admit the romantic in me instantly conjured up thoughts of affectionate images of couples by the likes of Doisneau. So it only seemed right that I explore this theme in some way through my research, to see where it leads.

Whilst searching photographs showing couples on various websites I came across a beautiful photograph taken of a sleeping couple in Paris by Ed Van Der Elsken. A Dutch photographer and filmmaker who created the groundbreaking photobook Love on the Left Bank.

Published in 1956, roman-à-clef Love on the Left Bank captures post war Parisian life. A time where the left bank was home to many artists, writers and aesthetes who influenced the cultural agenda of a generation. In the book we see the result of Van Der Elsken following these young bohemian hedonists, with a fictional albeit corny storyline alongside his black and white snapshot images. The story focuses on Ann (represented by Australian artist and dancer Vail Myers) and is narrated by her Mexican lover Manuel, who pines with an unrequited love for her.

The relationships we witness through these raw, often sultry images are those of tangential lovers. There is a real sense of sadness I felt in looking at this tribe of existentialists in Paris. Although they are technically fictional characters within the context of this book, the people in these photographs are real people who aren't helping to stage these photographs in anyway. They really were selling and smoking cannabis, eating very little food and slept on benches, in cinemas and any rooms they could during the daytime hours.

These images are incredibly potent snapshots of postwar Paris showing the reality of the lifestyles of these seemingly jubilant bohemians. The photograph for example where the girl has bitten the ear off of her unfaithful lover shows just how intense the relationships of these hedonists were. It is even more tragic when you learn of how Vali Myers was eventually reunited with Van Der Elsken and told him of how she became an opium addict, two members of the group committed suicide and another ended up in a mental home. The photographs in this book because of this are also a haunting indication of the destruction entering the lives of the real people in these photographs, and Love on the Left Bank is truly a piece that reveals the tragedies captured through the relationships formed in a carefree era.

“ For making love, i’m looking for 450 francs, All donations are accepted, Don’t Wake Me Up “ - Paris, 1952

Saint Germain des Pres
The photograph above of the couple sleeping is one of my favourite photographs in the book that particularly moves me. Alike the rest of the bohemian tribe shown in Love on the Left Bank, this couple appear to be sleeping rough. With the way they are wearing coats and appear to be sat inside some kind of cafe or bar. Their faces particularly with the sunlight on the man's conveys how exhausted the pair are and that they have been up all night as these people always were with their lifestyles. Despite this the moment we are able to witness here seems so gentle and calm despite their uninhibited way of living. 

What really strikes me in this photograph is the sense of dependency this couple appear to have on one another. These leading lines draw our eyes straight towards them and suggest they are the center of one another's world. The way they equally rest their weight on one another communicates how much they need eachother and that they are all they have. 

Cafe Culture in Bohemian Paris, 1954
Pierre and Paulette (Kiss with Hand Around Cheek), 1951
Without the provided storyline these images show the true nature of the despairing lives of these young Parisian Bohemians in the 1950s. They show the addiction, poverty and vulnerability of these nocturnal free spirits, who all seem dependent on these intense relationships formed in their groups. The gritty snapshot nature of these images pushed the boundaries of documentary photography at that time, in terms of how images of this genre could look and be presented. For me personally what I find inspiring about this photo book is the approach Van Der Elsken took to creating these photographs. He immersed himself within these people who in the images show a lack of awareness whatsoever for the photographer. Most likely because they were comfortable with him and he presented himself in a way that had no professional agenda, much like the people in the photographs themselves. 

Following people is what really has stood out to me in terms of Elsken's approach, that once people stop being hyperaware and conscious of your photographic intensions, they really start to reveal themselves. I have no idea yet what kind of relationships I want to capture through my images but it is becoming clearer to me that in order to get natural images of people interacting, you need to fully immerse yourself in the social situation you find yourself wanting to photograph them in. 

The Relationship Brief + Plan of Action.

Notes + Information from briefing

Produce a total of 5 different images that depict a relationship.

These 5 images can either be:

5 different individual images of different relationships
5 different images depicting the same relationship

The most important word here is ‘different.’ Whether you choose to explore the same subject matter or different subjects, ensure that you work around your subject and work fluidly to produce creative and visually interesting images.

Photographers to look at:
  • Chris Steele-Perkins (Magnum Photos) 
  • Chris Killip 
  • “No Such Thing As Society” Daniel Meadows
  • Tony Ray Jones
  • Graham Smith
  • Jocelyn Bain 
  • Lauren Greenfield ‘Girl Culture’
  • Martin Parr
  • Nancy Borowick
  • Dougie Wallace
  • Venetia Dearden ‘Somerset Stories’
  • Garry Winogrand
  • Phil Greitzer
  • Robert Doisneau
  • Ruth Orkin
  • Floyd McCarty
  • Michael Ochs
  • Tony Triolo
  • Denise Ranallo (punk scene, nyu)
  • Linda McCartney
  • Ed Clark
  • Margaret Bourke-White
  • Dick Halstead (bill clinton)
  • W. Eugene Smith
  • JeongMee Yoon - pink and blue project
  • Bill Cunningham

It can be about family, a community, a religion, a couple, work, school, or just the varied ways we are thrown together as human beings every day. People interact with each other because they want to and quite often because they have to.

Initial Thoughts + Ideas

When receiving the brief I was initially quite nervous about capturing this kind of subject matter. I saw the word relationship and thought ok even more people this time. Which is fine, but in a way it's going to be harder. Taking a portrait of one person seems easier to pull off in theory and I guess I was nervous because I instantly began thinking about portraits of two people. When in fact I don't have to be that straight forward in response to the brief at all. 

My initial aims/intentions throughout this project are to push myself a lot harder. I want to make my research more thorough and make it influence my working progress a lot more. I also want to incorporate more critical theory into my thought process and think outside the box more with my photographs and the kinds of genres and styles I incorporate into my work and research. 

I feel that a broad range of genres and styles of photographer's work are appropriate to look and consider for this project but I feel I will mainly focus on documentary, street and photojournalism photography. As I did portraiture last semester and want to try some styles I haven't previously explored that fully, because I have done a lot of portraiture before university as well. 

My first steps in starting this project will be to look through books that catalogue different photographer's work to find those whose work includes themes that relate to relationships. I will then look at their work individually to influence my ideas for concepts and approaches to my own work capturing relationships. 

Initial thoughts on relationships:
  • Artist couples
  • Family businesses 
  • Can shoot friends and family but don’t submit that
  • Person and an animal
  • Bingo Hall
  • Tea Dance