CULTURE & ARTS
08/11/2014 11:53 am ET

Photographer Garry Winogrand Captured America

The photographer Garry Winogrand had night vision. With it he saw not only the dark side of his own time in America, he saw the first flickering of our hopelessly polarized and fissuring future—its paranoia, rage, and blind righteousness. Winogrand, who was born in 1928, took his first picture when he was 20 years old and never really put down the camera again. And I mean never. He moved like a meteor from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood, returning to the same sites, always finding people devoured by desire, resignation, and nonbeing. He called himself “a gypsy.” Winogrand peered through the mist of changing America, saw brittle invalids, rich guys with rheumy eyes, figures acting prescribed parts, people frozen in hatred like the plaster figures in Pompeii. His pictures startle with their rawness. Almost always close in to his subjects, he’s aggressive. By the end of his life, he was shooting so incessantly he wouldn’t even take the time to develop his negatives, much less make prints from them. “I sometimes think I’m a mechanic,” he said. “I just take pictures.” In those years, he nearly stopped editing, or even looking at, his work. Other people did his printing and put his books and shows together. He died, too, with the same headlong drive. Diagnosed with cancer in January 1984, he went immediately to Tijuana to seek an alternative cure and was dead two months later. He was only 56.

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