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Review: 'Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable' explores the artist who pushed his craft to its limits

Review: 'Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable' explores the artist who pushed his craft to its limits
The groundbreaking photographer in footage from the documentary "Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable." (Judy Teller / Center for Creative Photography / Greenwich Entertainment)

American photographer Garry Winogrand saw photographs where others saw random space. He helped create a revolution in photography that ended up almost consuming his posthumous reputation. He was not an easy man, but his work could be brilliant.

“Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable,” a documentary by Sasha Waters Freyer, explores these areas and more, serving as both a fine introduction for those who don’t know the work and a thoughtful examination of the issues surrounding him for those who do.

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The son of Jewish immigrants, Winogrand was raised in the Bronx and had the accent and wit to prove it. Asked his thoughts about shooting in available light, he cracked “that’s the only light there is.”

As fast a shooter as he was a talker (and he was a very fast talker), Winogrand shot and shot and shot, an estimated 1 million images before his untimely death in 1984 at age 56.

“Like a machine gun,” remembered one friend, with such a disregard for running out of physical film that someone calls him, with reason, “the first digital photographer.”

Starting in the genre known as street photography, a designation he came to dislike, Winogrand pushed its limits.

“He was a master of making chaos visible,” one curator says. “He was always riding on the razor’s edge of things just falling apart.”

Starting as a journalistic photographer, Winogrand was championed by New York’s Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski. MOMA’s 1967 “New Documents” exhibition, which featured Winogrand and fellow groundbreakers Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, put all three photographers on the map in a major way.

“All Things Are Photographable” posits that Winogrand was as much a choreographer of movement as an image maker, an athlete who moved like a basketball player to get to the right spot to shoot subjects who were often moving themselves.

Winogrand had a strong interest in photographing women – a 1975 collection was called “Women Are Beautiful” – and time is spent talking about his point of view as well as his relationships with the various women in his life.

After establishing his career in New York, Winogrand went on to photograph extensively in Texas and California. What he stopped doing at some point was looking at or even developing what he shot.

Left behind after Winogrand’s death were 2,500 rolls of negative film still in canisters, 6,000 rolls developed but without proof sheets, and 5,000 rolls with proof sheets but no images selected: an estimated 300,000 unseen images in all.

When other sensibilities began looking at this backlog and making selections, some critics expressed the feeling that Winogrand’s best work was his earliest New York material, that he had somehow lost a step.

“All Things Are Photographable” explores this controversy from several angles. “Each generation,” one curator posits, “should look anew.” As this documentary demonstrates, there is no lack of wonderful things to look at.

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“Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable”

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Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles.

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