Garry WinograndNew York 1969

I would never dispute Al Pacino’s skill as an actor; I just don’t really ever respond to his performances– perhaps that’s the virtue. (Bear with me; I promise this comes back around to the image.)

Pacino is one of those actor’s actors–a notion I find intolerably snobbish, as if someone were saying you need to know something about what it takes to be an actor in order to understand.

Something not unlike being a photographer’s photographer–minus the snobbery–is true of Winogrand.

Saying I was initially nonplussed by his work would be putting it nicely. It seemed too random, chaotic and unpolished. I remember thinking anyone could have shot these.

For nothing else than my perpetual tossing around of that famous Picasso quote in defense of the modernists, this sentiment should have set off alarms.

Alas, I remained off put by Winogrand until a dear friend showed me this image recently.

I’d never delved deeply enough to have encountered it. The precise composition– the couple kissing, the smoldering cigarette pinched between fingers, the Tortilla Factory sign, the what-are-you-looking-at-motherfucker glare and the go-ahead-and-watch-you-motherfucker glance–made my head explode a little. The image appears almost accidental, unmediated.

You know that moment when you glance at something and look away without really seeing it? And suddenly, the scene registers and you have to do a double take to make sure you saw what you thought you did. This photo is a photographic approximation of that first seeing but unseeing glance. It inspires an instinct to look back at the image again to see if what you think you saw is what you really saw. 

That is really what makes this image so extraordinary. The skill of the photographer is on display only to the extent that the camera is no longer an extension of the eye but the eye itself. It’s all so vital, so gleefully transgressive.

Clearly, my initial estimation of Winogrand was wrong. I don’t necessarily like all his work. But I can appreciate it and I do get what all the fuss is about now.

I don’t like being wrong. But the wonderful thing about admitting your mistakes is that little else motivates learning and growth quite as effectively.

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