Photographs on the Brain

Photographs on the Brain

Edited by Bryan Formhals

You’re given a chance to decide how this moment will be remembered," he says in the video. "We all become artists, we all become architects of our mental narratives, of our historical digital paper-trail. We decide who we are. We’re building maps, and those maps are subjective. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. … I think it liberates our desire to be artists.
Los Angeles 1983, Mark Steinmetz
Pomona, CA 1983, Mark Steinmetz
Los Angeles Zoo 1983, Mark Steinmetz


In preparation for the upcoming Leo Rubinfien lecture, “The Reasons for Winogrand,” we reached out to photographer Mark Steinmetz for some of his personal insight into his time spent with Garry Winogrand while in Los Angles during the 1980s.

We are very grateful for Mark’s contribution to the retrospective on Garry’s life and career as a photographer.  

We hope you enjoy the essay below, Remembering Garry Winogrand, by Mark Steinmetz. 

Remembering Garry Winogrand

I entered the Yale School of Art straight from college and left after my first semester. I was 21. At Yale, Richard Benson had explained to me how to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights, and Tod Papageorge had given a brilliant slide talk on Cartier-Bresson; I figured that was all I needed to know. I was restless, curious about America beyond New England, and had a strong interest in the movie industry; I also had heard that Garry Winogrand was somewhere out there in Los Angeles so in the summer of 1983 I headed west.

When I got to LA I moved into a roach-infested studio in the Miracle Mile district and set up a darkroom in the 5’ x 5’ nook that separated the bathroom from the only other room. As far as I could tell, after poking around a bit, nobody in LA had even the slightest interest in what is considered to be straight photography. Someone told me, erroneously it turned out, that Garry had left town so the scene didn’t seem at all promising. (Later on, I would meet Jeffrey Scales and Anthony Hernandez, so there were at least a couple of other straight photographers besides myself and Garry. There might have been a few more I didn’t know about.) It didn’t take long before I ran into Garry. The first time was at the counter of Samy’s Camera – he was there with his printer, Tom Consilvio. I said hello and that was pretty much that. Then I came across Garry over and over in a short period of time in both likely and unlikely places. If you have any familiarity with the sprawling nature of LA, you would see how improbable those encounters were. One day our paths crossed at the county fair way out in Pomona and since we realized we lived close to one another (in LA terms), Garry suggested that we drive to the fair together the next time.

Garry drove a small energy efficient white Toyota. He had some sort of cumbersome theft prevention contraption that he would latch to the steering wheel though I seriously doubted any thief would make the effort to go after his unvoluptuous car. My car was a Fiat, which was mischievously and irresponsibly leaking massive amounts of oil.  Garry preferred going in my car so that he could photograph out the window. Once driving down Sunset Boulevard he took a picture with his 28mm lens across six lanes of traffic of a woman on the sidewalk – “aah…and she was smiling,” he said as he returned his Leica to his lap. I can’t find the citation but I think somewhere Szarkowski described Garry’s later work as “involving increasingly unequal contests of chance.”

One morning I met Garry at the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax. He was going to show me his darkroom, which was nearby. His face was covered with little bits of kleenex or maybe toilet paper put in place to stop the bleeding from shaving. “A normal occurrence,” he said. As I remember, Garry usually wore the same dark blue work clothes. I thought he looked good but he never put much emphasis on his appearance. He had no time to waste on what he called “nonsense” and spoke of not going to a dinner party later one night because “bullshitters” were going to be there. He was a one-man anti-complacency league. Once he said, with his voice sort of trailing off, “The world is full of seductions…” He was telling me not to fall for those seductions: success with the world is easy; success with the self (through photography) is difficult. On one outing, I didn’t know what to do with a banana peel I was clutching in my hand and, looking around, there were no trash cans anywhere – it was getting to be a little absurd; he said, “Just chuck it over the fence.” So I did. His cheerful, practical manner and advice probably helped me shave off years of worrying how to be. In private, he didn’t speak so much about photography.

Garry was really funny. He actively used his mind in coming up with improbable jokes. On some drive to somewhere he told me that Woody Allen was one of his pet peeves, that he had friends in New York who were much funnier than Woody. I countered with my personal pet peeve of Australian movies (at that time, America was being inundated with Australian movies and they were receiving over the top praise). After a beat, he turned to me with a smile and said, “You see, Woody Allen doesn’t know he’s an Australian.” He was not like anyone else I had met yet he felt familiar. We thought alike.

Garry mentioned good days he had photographing, rolls he put aside because he knew he had something special on them, good work that hadn’t surfaced yet from Texas. “Tip of the iceberg,” he said about the work of his that had been published or exhibited up to that date. At a public talk, he mentioned Picasso and how Picasso had always been changing and challenging himself (and how that was a good thing). He spoke admiringly of Kertész, whom he said was able to make pictures out of nothing. He would say that if something looked like a picture he wouldn’t photograph it. At the end of a long day, I said I wanted to continue to photograph at dusk and he said, “aah…low contrast…” as if that were a tantalizing possibility. He had a motor drive on his Leica and took two rolls as we walked through a vast parking lot in the twilight. My take on his later work was that Garry was trying to keep his work unfamiliar; he was trying to come up with a new kind of picture, one that hadn’t existed before. 

On a Sunday in January, 1984, I persuaded Garry to go with me to photograph at the LA Zoo. As I remember, we had a full day of shooting that went on till the light faded. On our way out, Garry spotted Bernadette Peters, the movie and Broadway actress, who was visiting the zoo with her boyfriend. Garry had photographed her before on the set of John Huston’s movie, Annie. She and her boyfriend were dressed in identical jeans, identical (leather?) jackets. Strikingly, they both had the same hairstyle – I don’t know how you would describe their hair - drooping, poodle-like. She threw her head back and shrieked with laughter in reaction to Garry taking their picture. When he sank into the seat of my car, he said, “Boy, you don’t know how tired you are till you sit down.” In February, I called him up to say I had decided to leave town and move back east (I had been struggling with money, a relationship, and in general with finding my footing in LA). His voice sounded terrible on the phone, very weak, and I had no idea what was going on with him – it was shocking. He wished me “the best of luck.” The following month, a couple weeks before my 23rd birthday, I was at my parents’ house in Connecticut and my mother brought me the NY Times. Without saying a word, she pointed to Garry’s obituary. There had been a cancer growing inside of him during the time that I had known him but he hadn’t taken notice of it.

(via smithyphoto)



Congratulations LaToya Ruby Frazier on your first book! It’s been an honor to see this work grow in the last 9ish years. Beautifully printed and definitely filling a gap in the photo world

The Notion of Family

Photographs by LaToya Ruby Frazier

Interview by Dawoud Bey Essays by Laura Wexler and Dennis C. Dickerson
In this, her first book, LaToya Ruby Frazier offers an incisive exploration of the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The work also considers the impact of that decline on the community and on her family, creating a statement both personal and truly political—an intervention in the histories and narratives of the region. Frazier has compellingly set her story of three generations—her Grandma Ruby, her mother, and herself—against larger questions of civic belonging and responsibility. The work documents her own struggles and interactions with family and the expectations of community, and includes the documentation of the demise of Braddock’s only hospital, reinforcing the idea that the history of a place is frequently written on the body as well as the landscape. With The Notion of Family, Frazier knowingly acknowledges and expands upon the traditions of classic black-and-white documentary photography, enlisting the participation of her family—and her mother in particular. As Frazier says, her mother is “coauthor, artist, photographer, and subject. Our relationship primarily exists through a process of making images together. I see beauty in all her imperfections and abuse.” In the creation of these collaborative works, Frazier reinforces the idea of art and image-making as a transformative act, a means of resetting traditional power dynamics and narratives, both those of her family and those of the community at large.

LaToya Ruby Frazier (born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, 1982) received her BFA in photography and graphic design in 2004 at Edinboro University, Pennsylvania, and her MFA in 2007 from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, New York. In 2011, Frazier completed the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program and shortly thereafter was appointed Critic in Photography at the Yale University School of Art. She has received numerous grants and awards, including a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has been included in exhibitions at major institutions worldwide.

Dawoud Bey (interview) is well-known for his own work as a photographer and has been featured in numerous exhibitions, including a mid-career survey at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 1995. He is a professor of art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago.

Laura Wexler (essay) is professor and co-chair of the Women’s Faculty Forum at Yale University, as well as the founder and director of the Photographic Memory Workshop at Yale. Her books include the award-winning Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U. S. Imperialism (2000).

Dennis C. Dickerson (essay) is the James M. Lawson, Jr. Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of several titles focusing on American labor history and the civil rights movement, including Out of the Crucible: Black Steel Workers in Western Pennsylvania, 1875–1980 (1986). 

- See more at:

(via icpbardmfa)

Portraits of the victims of the siege on School No 1. The gym is now a makeshift memorial. (Photo by Diana Markosian)
Alex Badoyev, 17 stands in the room where his father was shot and killed. Badoyev and his parents were among the hostages taken that day. (Photo by Diana Markosian)
Aslan Shavlakhov. 1998-2004.
A blood stained undershirt found after the attack. (Photo by Diana Markosian)


Beslan School Siege, 10 Years Later

On Sept. 1, 2004, 1,200 students were taken hostage during a back-to-school event in Beslan, North Ossetia, a Russian republic. Two days later, about 330 hostages were dead, more than half of them children. Reportage photographer Diana Markosian visited Beslan in advance of the anniversary and her resulting photographs - of survivors, the school and the graves of the dead - were published in Time Lightbox over the weekend, accompanied by an essay by Katya Cengel.

"Beslan is considered one of the conflict’s greatest travesties against the innocent," writes Cengel. "But a decade later the world has moved on. Residents of this little North Caucasus town have not, partly because important questions remain unanswered: How many terrorists escaped? What caused the explosion that lead to the storming of the school?"

See the feature on Time Lightbox.

(Photos by Diana Markosian)

People desire to think of themselves as beings of value and worth with a feeling of permanence, a concept in psychology known as self-esteem, that somewhat resolves the realization that people may be no more important than any other living thing. Becker refers to high self-esteem as heroism: “the problem of heroics is the central one of human life, that it goes deeper into human nature than anything else because it is based on organismic narcissism and on the child’s need for self-esteem as the condition for his life. Society itself is a codified hero system, which means that society everywhere is a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning.”
People like Martin Parr won’t get a free copy of my book because I don’t like the entire idea of having these mega-gurus who decide what’s good and what’s not. They do not represent the self-publishing scene, but they still dominate it. I think we have to build up a new generation of publishers and stop kissing the asses of yesterday’s authority figures. Self-publishing should be anti-establishment. The way things are going right now narrows down the very broad spectrum of the photography book scene. Look at all the photography blogs, which mention the same 30 – 40 book titles that everyone is mentioning that year. Luckily enough there are also some photography blogs that are really committed to showing you works you would otherwise not see.
Load more posts