The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art earlier this year mounted a major retrospective of Garry Winogrand's work, a sweeping photographic chronicle that offers a glimpse of American character from 1950 to the early 1980s. Winogrand — a contemporary of Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander — was a street photographer who crowded into elevators at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, haunted the corridors of airports to capture the drama and the boredom that unfolded there, and traveled America's new highway system to capture the birth of a new suburban culture. The retrospective's accompanying catalog, "Garry Winogrand," edited by Leo Rubinfien, is an absorbing compendium offering dozens of rare and never-before-exhibited images.
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That Winogrand's work is not as ubiquitous as Frank's might be, in part, because he never published a visionary book like Frank's "The Americans." In fact, Winogrand, who died in 1984 within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer of the gall bladder duct, never really took time to edit his work once it was shot. In an essay for the catalog, "Garry Winogrand's Republic," Rubinfien writes: "At its deepest, it was the making of pictures not even to have those pictures — though they were important — but for the sake of seeing honestly, so that by freeing oneself from false sentiment, self-importance, and all kinds of fatuous, trite or half-baked ideas, one might live authentically."
It's interesting to look at Winogrand's work alongside that of William Klein, the 85-year-old photographer, painter, filmmaker and graphic artist. "William Klein: ABC" collects Klein's work from roughly the same period; the two artists were born within four months of each other in New York. But Klein wanders farther afield, in Moscow, Rome, Tokyo and Paris. His work, some of which was shot for Vogue and other fashion concerns, carries a more aggressive edge and is marked at times by an element of artifice. The book, which is broken into sections based on location, is a tightly edited romp — a photo book begging for a soundtrack.
Taken together, these two books offer incisive street-level views of 20th century culture.
Jennifer Day is editor of Printers Row Journal.
"William Klein: ABC"
By William Klein, Abrams, 184 pages, $40
Edited by Leo Rubinfien, Yale, 448 pages, $85