Garry Winogrand: Five lessons from a master of photography

El Morocco, New York, 1955 (Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco)

El Morocco, New York, 1955 (Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco)

(I wrote this piece for BBC.com’s excellent arts site BBC Culture, last week, and am reprinting it here. Thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to  include some of Winogrand’s images with this post)

Few photographers have lived and breathed their art with the singular devotion of Garry Winogrand. In a career spanning four decades, the Brooklyn native stalked the New York pavement with a Leica camera and a wide-angle lens, capturing New Yorkers at intimate quarters. His pictures capture fragments of ordinary life in an America poised between confidence and crisis: laughter in the sun of a summer street, the tang of menace from a bandaged figure in a convertible, moments of unexpected surrealism on an afternoon in the city zoo.

Winogrand would spend hours on the street every day, shooting a dozen rolls of black and white film – 400 or 500 images, day after day. Thirty years after his death, only now are we seeing anything approaching an overarching view of his material. Last week saw the launch of a new exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the first major retrospectives of his life’s work.

Trying to emulate Winogrand’s punishing work ethic would be madness. But within his rich archive there is a wealth of wisdom for photographers to learn from.

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Lomo postcards from Morocco

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A train sweeps by, somewhere on the road to Marrakech

Cross-processed slides love light. Shoot them on a cloudy, overcast day and they can look dull and lifeless. They need bright conditions – hard electric lights or sweltering sun – to really sing.

Last month I spent a week travelling around Morocco, just as the desert spring was heating up. While it wasn’t quite the furnace it becomes in the height of summer – think 40C and then some – it was stark and bright. That’s perfect light for cross-processing.

Giving slide film the xpro treatment can be a hit-and-miss affair – some go green, some purple, some look just plain weird. But there’s one film – Agfa’s old Precisa consumer slide film – that is nigh on perfect.

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Soundcheck Sessions: David Kilgour details

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Most of the time shooting bands at soundcheck, the light levels are low – really low. There’s a fraction of the light that’s onstage during showtime, so often it’s trying to find pools of light amidst the shadows.

Back in 2007, however, I was shooting in a very different venue. I’d taken a trip back home for six weeks to my native New Zealand, and arranged to go out on tour with my friend David Kilgour‘s band, touring the North Island to promote David’s brilliant album ‘The Far Now’. After a gig in Wellington, we ended up in Napier, a coastal city almost totally destroyed in a 1931 earthquake and boasting an incredible array of art deco buildings.

It turned out the venue, Latitude Live, was one of them, boasting a beautiful skylight over the stage that let in bright summer light during afternoon rehearsals for Kilgour and his band The Heavy Eights. Continue reading

Soundcheck Sessions: Maccabees silhouettes

The Maccabees' Hugo White, Brixton Academy, 2009

Guitarist Hugo White, shot on stage at the Brixton Academy

Ten years after starting my soundcheck photography project, shooting bands as they rehearse for the night’s show, it looks like I’ll be holding my first proper exhibition.

That means I’ve started trawling back through the archive and finding the best images. Over the last 10 years, I’ve shot some 25 bands – from Moscow in Russia to Napier in New Zealand, Istanbul to New York, London to Luxembourg.

The image above is my favourite from shooting The Maccabees before their Brixton Academy show back in 2009.

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Soviet portrait

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Josh Rouse, shot in a south London studio on an old Soviet Iskra

I recently spent a few weeks travelling around Barcelona and Morocco, wandering the streets with a shoulder bag with a couple of cameras and a handful of film.

This trip, I took along a camera I’ve neglected for too long – the KMZ Iskra, a 6×6 folding rangefinder which dates from the 1960s. It’s a beautifully crafted, compact medium format camera, with a truly fantastic lens, and it’s superbly suited to travel. Though I only managed to shoot with it on the last morning of the trip, some of the results were fantastic.

The Iskra is also a fantastic portrait camera. I recently shot a friend’s promotional pics ahead of her first book, and took along a Nikon F100 with an 85mm lens and a mix of film. At the last minute I took along the Iskra, and got the best shot of the day on it.

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