American street photographer Garry Winogrand didn't consider himself to be an artist—at least, not at the beginning of his career. He was a photographer, a job that, in the early 1960s, was more of a laborer. Photographing a street moment was like catching a fish. Each day, obsessively, Winogrand would burn through clumsy rolls of film, clicking past busy New Yorkers on the street and taking their pictures. Getting his shots required athleticism; developing his films took patience. It was a blue-collar craft, not an art, according to a new "American Masters" documentary about his life, Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable, screening at SIFF's Film Center this weekend.
During Winogrand's lifetime, photography turned from craft to art, but during ours, it's turned from art to pandemic. Today, our selfies and hole pics get sent to space and back, so the full magic of Winogrand's work requires a bit of historical imagination. Capturing the drama of someone crossing a sidewalk was a great feat, not something a baby could do on accident while chewing on their mom's telephone. Smartphones have democratized photography. That technical fact doesn't cancel the art of photography, but it can eclipse a bit of the marvelousness of Winogrand's fantastic, laborious snapshots.
All Things are Photographable addresses this contemporary hurdle, gently, but it mostly does the good work of articulating Winogrand's art and its importance in a snappy 90 minutes. Director Sasha Waters Freyer gets the biography right. Freyer lets Winogrand be complicated, contradictory, and surprisingly controversial, but the clear lesson is how Winogrand's best photographs turned pedestrian chaos into dance. But with the evolution of the internet, phones, and wearable technology, photography is still on the move. I think we'll be able to better frame a Winogrand retrospective once we have a better idea of where the art form is going.