Garry Winogrand is widely known for his black and white photographs that helped pioneer the “snapshot aesthetic”. Think of Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and more recently, Ryan McGinley. He was a NYC street photographer before everyone on Spring St. with an iPhone claimed the title. The Brooklyn Museum has decided to shine some light on a different side of Garry, and has opened the first exhibition dedicated to his almost unknown color photographs.

Garry Winogrand in New York City, 1957 - Adsum
Garry Winogrand in New York City, 1957.

These color prints remained largely unseen until now. Not because of their lack of impact or content, but because of circumstantial reasons. He came from a working class family of immigrants residing in the Bronx and was producing work during the 50s and 60s; a time when photographs had little market value. There simply wasn’t enough money or time for the processing of the more than 45,000 color slides he produced. Despite knowing this, he continued to shoot in color for 20 years.

Brooklyn Museum Garry Winogrand - Adsum
Garry Winogrand: Color is up now at the Brooklyn Museum.

The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition is unlike any we’ve been to. When we visited, it could only be accessed through one difficult to find staircase, hidden near the Egyptian sarcophagi. You’re greeted by a video of Garry going about his work and talking about process, organization, and photography in general. To the left are some of his more well known black-and-white work, and to the right is a dark room where you can barely make out the word “Color” printed on the wall. Upon entering the ominous room and turning a corner, you’re enveloped by an odd sensory overload of 10 ft tall large scale projections flickering and changing. The slides, lining both walls, rotate through in sections, encouraging you to take a seat on a bench next to some strangers and soak it all in before getting up and moving to a new area and repeating.

Brooklyn Museum Garry Winogrand - Adsum

All told, 400 rarely or never before seen images are cycled through. Subject matter remains classic Garry, covering the social and physical landscapes across the United States with an emphasis on New York City. Public centers of all kinds were Garry’s favorite places to work (the beach, midtown, town fairs, the streets of NY) capturing the human condition in its beauty as well as its odd postwar consumerist quirks. The saturated colors enhance this overall sense. Where a black and white image of a tray of discarded burger condiments may come across as somber; here, rendered in Garry’s manufactured yellows and Crayola® reds, you can practically feel Ronald McDonalds smiling face lurking somewhere just out of frame. It captures a time when communing at a fast food restaurant was exciting, aspirational, and the American dream realized.

Brooklyn Museum Garry Winogrand - Adsum
Texas, 1964.

What makes this exhibition special is being able to look at a changing America through the lens of one of the great innovators of modern photography. We currently find ourselves at a tumultuous time in our country’s history… it's a good time to look back at where we came from.

Garry Winogrand: Color continues at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn) through December 8. It was curated by Drew Sawyer, a curator of photography at the Brooklyn Museum, with Michael Almereyda and Susan Kismaric.