Thirty years after the Museum of Modern Art’s posthumous 1988 retrospective of the work of photographer Garry Winogrand comes “Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable,” a balanced and deeply satisfying documentary assessment of his work, which is lavishly on display in hundreds of the artist’s images.
Perhaps “lavish” is not the best word here.
Winogrand’s muscular, sometimes chaotic pictures of the urban street — mostly shot in black-and-white, though he also briefly dabbled in color — celebrate what one commentator calls a “vulgar American energy.” Yet despite this undeniably macho aesthetic — a sometimes leering artistic gaze on full view in Winogrand’s 1975 photo book “Women Are Beautiful”(originally subtitled “Observations of a Male Chauvinist Pig”) — the artist is also described, just as aptly, as a “poet”, a “choreographer” and even a “philosopher.”
That last characterization may be the hardest to swallow. But Winogrand, in recordings taken from lectures, interviews and casual conversations, betrays a surprisingly contemplative attitude toward the act of picture making. The job of the artist, he says, is not to solve problems, but to articulate them. For Winogrand, that means the central question of photography is: How do you make a picture that is more interesting — more beautiful, more dramatic — than what just happened?
Photography, then, isn’t just a record of light on a surface, as he argues elsewhere in the film, but an artifact that transcends documentary.
Director Sasha Waters Freyer, for her part, hews to the conventions of the documentary genre, structuring the film around plentiful interviews with art historians, critics, curators, photographers and Winogrand’s three wives. “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner appears frequently throughout the film, espousing Winogrand’s art as a kind of template for the world of his 1960s-set TV show. (The year 1964 is said to have been when Winogrand, who died in 1984 at age 56, was “on fire,” creatively speaking.)
What’s most fascinating about Winogrand’s art is its hybrid nature, as “All Things are Photographable” makes clear. On the one hand, its loose, gritty nature is in stark contrast to the Photoshopped imagery of today. (Heck, it was even in stark contrast to the imagery of its day; one commentator calls Winogrand the “anti-Warhol.”)
On the other hand, there’s also something very contemporary about it as well. His quick-draw approach to the world around him presaged today’s smartphone-savvy culture, where everybody has a camera in his or her pocket. Then there’s the fact Winogrand, arguably, left a little bit of himself in every picture — even if only in the way that so many of his subjects stare back at him, making the artist what one talking head calls a “harbinger of the selfie generation.”
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains nudity and obscenity. 90 minutes.