The Arty Semite

Did Photographer Garry Winogrand Exploit Nude Subjects?

By Menachem Wecker

  • Print
  • Share Share

Garry Winogrand, New York, 1968, gelatin silver print, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Walking through the many rooms in the National Gallery of Art’s exhibit “Garry Winogrand” (through June 8), I was surprised to see several groups of transfixed boys. Winogrand, after all, was born in 1928 and died more than 20 years ago; he had an ingenious eye for interpreting urban street scenes and the pedestrians that passed through them, but his work has nothing to do with Instagram or iPhones. Why, I wondered, were these young boys so interested in black-and-white photographs from the 1970s?

When I crossed over the room toward the boys, I realized they were gawking at some of the photographs from Winogrand’s 1975 series of 85 works: “Women Are Beautiful.” The images showed women in various stages of undress. “Whenever I’ve seen an attractive woman, I’ve done my best to photograph her,” Winogrand wrote of the series. “I don’t know if all the women in the photographs are beautiful, but I do know that the women are beautiful in the photographs.”

Winogrand’s program of photographing beautiful women has been controversial. The photographer, born to Jewish parents who left Budapest and Warsaw for the Bronx, is “routinely criticized for exploiting the subjects of his work,” according to the website of the Worcester Art Museum, which showed works from the series in 2013. The photographs of the young women in the series are “typically composed to emphasize their breasts and backsides,” the site adds.

“Throughout his life, Winogrand photographed women more than any other subject,” adds a wall text at the National Gallery. “The pictures often feel sharply erotic, as if he were reaching toward something he could never quite grasp.”

The women wearing only bras, or no bras, surely grabbed the attention of the young visitors I saw at the museum, but dismissing the series as exploitation from the photographic mind of a dirty old man would be a tremendous mistake. There are certainly works from the series that call attention to boldly-dressed women and unconsciously lifted skirts that evoke Marilyn’s white dress.

But the series also includes photographs like the one with five dogs that almost entirely obscure a seated woman. Her hair and the small part of her face that is visible parallel the head of the dog in front of her, and her knees are nearly indistinguishable. In the work, Winogrand seems far more interested in the blurry lines between canine and human than in exploiting the female figure. And even the photographs that have been accused of focusing inappropriately on the female body do so within an artistic, rather than a pornographic, composition. Perhaps the charge that the works are exploitative reveals much about those who level the complaint.

Two standouts are “New York” (1968) and “Party, Norman Mailer’s Fiftieth Birthday, N.Y.C.” (1973). The former shows a woman (who happens to be beautiful) throwing her head back in delight as she eats an ice cream cone in front of a clothing store display. The joy depicted in the photograph is sensual, but it’s no “When Harry Met Sally” scene at Katz’s.

The photograph of Mailer captures the Jewish novelist hunched over a podium and surrounded by a crowd. Perhaps the room was too crowded for Winogrand to be able to snap the image from an ideal vantage point, but one wants to believe that the photographer’s eye settled intentionally not on the celebrity birthday boy, but on the magical manner in which the light played off the microphone stand on the lectern.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Photography, Garry Winogrand, Exhibits

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.