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GARRY WINOGRAND AND HOW A PHOTOGRAPH DESCRIBES

This is a screen shot of Garry Winogrand from Creativity with Bill Moyers. In interview Winogrand says (a quote for which he is known) that, “A picture is about what’s photographed and how that exists in the photograph – so that’s what we’re talking about. What can happen in a frame? Because photographing something changes it. It’s interesting, I don’t have to have any storytelling responsibility to what I’m photographing. I have a responsibility to describe well.”

Winogrand goes on to say (more to this point applied not just to photography) that, “It always fascinates me – it bolloxes my mind, I mean, when people talk about photographs in depth, and what not, you know, when all a photograph does is describe light on surface. That’s all there is. And that’s all we ever know about anybody. You know, what we see. I mean, I think we are our faces and whatever, you know? That’s all there is, is light on surface.”

At least regarding people, that “we are our faces” and that is all I do not agree. It seems what Winogrand is suggesting is that we are nothing more than what exists in front of us. And if this is true, then existential angst is for not… and why then have I always been so anxious? Regardless, I do agree when applying this belief to photography, that all it is or all it describes well is light on a page. And what then are we describing when we talk about photography? Onto photography we project ourselves, our thought, beliefs and ideas. And photography, just as it absorbs light, absorbs us well. But what are we doing when we describe photographs with words? We are not defining the photograph. At best we are translating it into another language.

If a musician is attempting to better understand tonality, she does not read sheet music. She listens to the notes played. So why then do we define photography with words when what we are describing is light and ourselves projected. We nor photography is reductive to words. Or as William Eggleston more simply put it, “You can love it and appreciate it, but you can’t really talk about it. Doesn’t make any sense.” 

Perhaps what is needed in order to better understand photography is not more words. What is needed is a stronger relationship between photographs. To create photographic synonyms… (ie: photograph A is much like photograph B). And just like when we form stronger relationships between one another (ie: she is much like me) we begin to better understand ourselves, perhaps we understand photography without words getting in the way.

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