When people talk about a "street photographer," they mean someone like Garry Winogrand. A native of the Bronx, Winogrand (1928–1984) shot on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, he shot on the wide boulevards in Los Angeles, he shot on street corners in small towns such as Lulling, Texas, always trying to capture the transient moment when he had organized the random movements of pedestrians into a telling arrangement in his viewfinder. Of the 41 black-and-white pictures at Deborah Bell in "Garry Winogrand: Photographs from the Collection of Eli Cosilvio," about half were taken in the street and another dozen in New York City zoos; zoos are thoroughfares for introducing pedestrians to animals.
One of Wingrand's books is titled "Women are Beautiful," and he photographed many women moving through public spaces. The women are not necessarily head-turners, and his observation of them is something more than voyeurism, although it is certainly also that. Like most men (and women), he understood that the women moving through a city are one its chief attractions, and he was fascinated by them, their variety, and their particularity. His pictures manifest his interest in them as persons, as incredibly brief as his encounters with them are. That is why the pictures of them are not just bodies in motion, but personalities with characters and histories.
The subject of "New York, Woman with Head Wrap and Shoulder Bag" (ca. 1970) is moving purposefully down the sidewalk; she has clearly started from somewhere and is bound for somewhere else. A young woman with regular features, casually dressed in dark slacks and a dark polo shirt, we meet her as if she were a well-defined character in a short story. The subject of "New York, Blonde Woman with Hair Blowing Over Face" (1965) is backlit, so her blond hair is highlighted and the shadows on the dark side of her white dress model her attractive figure. The camera is a bit above her and on a slight angle with the result that the sidewalk is tilted and she is not just striding quickly along, but almost falling forward. Still the sense of energy Winogrand captures, her carriage, and the two men in the background who are observing her, create a scenario in which she has the principal part.
There are two pictures of women who are certainly not anonymous, and they illustrate Winogrand's concern with the female psyche. One is "Marilyn Monroe (Leaning Over Balcony Overlooking Park Avenue)" (1955). Monroe was a creation of photography, the quintessential pinup, and she still is: I passed a table selling leering shots of her outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past Sunday. She is in the upper right-hand corner of Winogrand's picture, with Lever House diagonally across the street, so she must have been at the Waldorf-Astoria, the New York residence of visiting royalty and heads of state. But in this picture she is not a movie queen or celluloid sex goddess; this is not a celebrity photo, although it was clearly an opportunity for one.
Monroe leans over the balustrade and peers down the canyon of Park Avenue to the street below. Here she is not a princess surveying her kingdom, but a turreted recluse marking the enormous distance from her balcony to the common folk and their pedestrian lives being played out at street level. The set of her mouth and her slightly crinkled brow express care. She is a beautiful woman, but not a happy woman; not yet tragic, sad. It is Winogrand's accomplishment that he has rescued her from being only Marilyn Monroe, and made her again a human being.
The other picture is "Diane Arbus, ‘Love-In,' Central Park, New York City" (1969). This is a very affectionate picture of a comrade-in-arms, another street photographer trying to make a living shooting strangers met in public spaces. The back of the head of one such stranger occupies the right side of the picture. Arbus stands in front of him holding her twin-lens reflex with its complex sunshade and flash at shooting height, but rather than looking down into its ground glass viewer, she is staring intently at her subject. She carries a big white paper shopping bag, maybe to hold extra flash bulbs. And she has the long stem of a white flower clenched in her teeth. It is slightly surreal, but she is concentrating too hard on getting her picture to acknowledge how eccentric she looks. Winogrand admires her single-mindedness.
There are pictures at the Bell gallery from Winogrand's book "The Man in the Crowd," such as "American Legion Convention, Dallas" (1964), the heart-wrenching picture of a legless man, with none of the men around him on the sidewalk looking at him except, of course, the photographer. There are the zoo pictures from his book "The Animals," in which the people and the animals seem to switch identities. And there are pictures from various public events such as the woman dancing in "Opening, ‘Spaces' Exhibition, The Museum of Modern Art, New York" (1969), and "Texas State Fair, Dallas (Smiling Man Being Licked by Steer)" (1964).
In the last chapter of "Bystander: A History of Street Photography," Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz, the co-authors, have a discussion about some of the artists they knew. Meyerowitz, who hung out with Winogrand in the 1960s, says of him, "Listen, if you can take someone who's both ruthlessly honest and terribly compassionate at the same time, and jam them together in a kind of contradiction — that was Garry." And Westerbeck says, "The photography Garry created might be thought of as a type of heart surgery he performed on the street." The street, inexhaustible.
Until October 20 (511 W. 25th St., room 703, between Tenth and Eleventh avenues, 212-691-3883).