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PS Picks: Geoff Dyer on the Photography of Garry Winogrand

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
Exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2013.

Exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2013.

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What Would the World Look Like if It Could See Itself?: Garry Winogrand possessed a natural gift for freezing human drama. In the 1960s and '70s, on some of New York's hottest afternoons, the Bronx native would double-check the exposure on his Leica M4 and amble toward oncoming pedestrian traffic, sometimes flushing entire rolls of film between avenues. Winogrand was never shy, with sleeves rolled up to his biceps and a face seemingly designed to circumscribe the camera; he truly lived the scenes he shot. His penchant for using wide-angle lenses gave Manhattan a lopsided stretch, a place with everything in view but only a few things in focus. Look at any Winogrand photo and you're almost always tilting your head sideways, squinting under his selected sunlight. Most of his images demonstrate only a provincial respect for space: Elevators, convertibles, and phone booths are packed with bodies, yet parking lots and airport terminals are deserted, and loudly so.

A proponent of the process, Winogrand didn't have time for cute discussions about "aboutness," either: "I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed," he once said.

The trait made him an irresistible subject for Geoff Dyer's latest book, The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand, out this month, which showcases a hundred previously unseen Winogrand photos alongside a hundred short written vignettes. And because this is a book by Geoff Dyer, it claims to make no single argument, and would likely snap at you with its hardbound four-pound body if you asked it for one. Nonetheless, the words are only ever additive and never invasive, often sharpening each photo's edges. As one might expect, Dyer and Winogrand co-exist effortlessly, both frenetically productive cranks with commitment issues, whether in theme or form. At its best moments, Street Philosophy embraces the undirected, and uncaring, genius of both its writer and its subject—"In spite—and because of what's going on, it's impossible to tell what's going on," Dyer writes at one point—and the book is better for it.