Social Media

Book Review The Seraphim Photographs by Jesse Lenz Reviewed by George Slade "While reading The Seraphim I was struck by a sense of contingency and transition. All the life of Jesse Lenz’s family farm is seen in flow. The inevitable future is often foretold, yet the particulars of life in the moment are vividly compelling..."
The Seraphim. By Jesse Lenz.
The Seraphim
Photographs by Jesse Lenz

Charcoal Press, 2024. 144 pp., 9¾x12¼".

While reading The Seraphim I was struck by a sense of contingency and transition. All the life of Jesse Lenz’s family farm is seen in flow. The inevitable future is often foretold, yet the particulars of life in the moment are vividly compelling.

Let’s start at the end. The book’s last plate literally depicts the end of a life. Tracks in a few inches of snow tell the story of a small creature and a winged predator meeting in a very brief, one-sided battle. The victor left its feather prints in the snow, fringing a triangular depression where its talons seized the abruptly not-hopping rodent. Though the participants are no longer visible, this is as clear a narrative and as succinct a conclusion as a book can possibly offer. The moment between life and death is summarized in these traces.

The Seraphim is an extended contemplation of veils. There are numerous meditations on death. Animals of various species are seen dead (trigger warning), while humans are more subtly placed along the living end of the continuum. There is an exuberant boy band playing on one page while another image peers down on a younger child laid out next to Minnie Mouse. There’s something funereal and fantastic about the moment, as both figures wear the same benign grin. Another child (the second of a pair of twins) is seen entering the world wearing a veil, freshly delivered from the womb enwrapped in the amniotic caul, a rare and portentous occurrence in childbirth.

A couple of voracious praying mantises appear, one caught mid-monarch in a scene that is simultaneously biblical, comic, and horrific. Lenz retains dead creatures to teach his children about the continuum of life, offering evidence of the other side of the veil. Contingency is ever present; life is a series of chance operations.

The seraphim are a high order of angels, often associated with purity and light. There is ample suggestion in these photographs that humans and animals inhabit the realm. Children float in a tub and fly against the background of a rural idyll. One scene of a boy with his face in the sun is positively transporting, though the fact that his feet rest in moving water makes it incongruously earthbound. Owls populate the pages of Lenz’s book. Owls that have allowed themselves to be seen, peering from branches and cavities in trees, caught against skies that glow through the leafy canopies. Owls that serve as memento mori, brought home to provide evidence of life’s unstoppable journey toward death.

Lenz doesn’t dwell in myth or archetype. There is one awkward archer who might, in a stretch, be measured against Chiron, Diana, or William Tell. There are any number of innocents, from human babies — one who snoozes with a stuffed (toy) owl — to bunnies and raccoons. A hefty snake slithers out of a tree trunk, though it offers no apple.

The most bounteous crop seems to be a harvest of mushrooms, morels if my insufficiently trained mycologist eye doesn’t deceive me. Here’s another potential veil between light and dark; I would have to trust that Lenz and his pickers know what they’re gathering.

The photographer is a canny narrator who is expanding his skills as his long-term project evolves. (This is the second book in a planned series of seven extending over three decades.) He is increasingly using motion pictures, shooting 16mm film to produce a parallel visual chronicle. When reproduced in the book, the films overtly announce themselves, showing sprocket holes and adjoining frames. By integrating the notions of movement and elapsing time Lenz is exploring another transitional space and deepening our consciousness of photographic representation.

Overall, a quality of fluidity suffuses The Seraphim. All of the elements are mingling, moving from the first book’s skillful compendium of well-seen moments towards a more organic, contingent embrace of this unique and universal mise en scène in central Ohio.

Purchase Book

Read More Book Reviews

George Slade, aka re:photographica, is a writer and photography historian based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He is also the founder and director of the non-profit organization TC Photo.

Image c/o Randall Slavin
photo-eye Gallery Interview with Vanessa Marsh Anne Kelly We are thrilled to present "Western Landscapes" by the incredibly talented Vanessa Marsh. In this conversation, we discuss curiosity, making photographs without a camera, printing processes, and more.

Vanessa Marsh, Western Landscape 1, Archival Pigment Ink Print (from scanned Cyanotype), 15x20 in, Editon of 10, $1600

We are thrilled to present Western Landscapes by the incredibly talented Vanessa Marsh!

About this work, Marsh writes, "The images depict the infrastructure and amusements of modern culture set against otherwise remote locations. The darkness of the sky and the prevalence of stars allude to ancient skies before light pollution changed our everyday experience of the universe. The images act as a meditation on our connection to the story of humanity, as well as our place in the vast geologic history of the earth and the cosmos."

In this conversation, we discuss curiosity, making photographs without a camera, printing processes, and more.

Anne Kelly: What role does curiosity play in creating your artwork?

Vanessa Marsh: I think it plays a significant role; the best new pathways come from experimenting and trying new combinations of factors. Each new series is born from a curiosity to learn a new process.

AK: Please describe your process as simply as possible.

VM: I work in various photographic processes using opaque stencils and cut paper to make multiple exposures on light-sensitive paper. The result is the illusion of a layered and dimensional landscape. 

Vanessa Marsh, Western Landscape 11, Archival Pigment Ink Print (from scanned Cyanotype), 15x20 in, Editon of 10, $1600

AK: You started creating camera-less photographs in 2011. What motivated you to make this transition?

VM: In graduate school and the years afterward, I was working with scale models that I would set up in front of my camera against real skies to capture semi-realistic-looking landscapes. Around that time, I was teaching a beginning photography workshop and used some of the scale models and some torn paper to demo how to create photograms. From the moment I saw the results of that demonstration, silhouetted figures set against a hazy landscape, I was hooked on making photograms of these imagined places. I no longer use scale models, but the basic ideas of layering silhouettes and graduated exposures began that evening.

Vanessa Marsh, Western Landscape 4, Archival Pigment Ink Print (from scanned Cyanotype), 15x20 in, Editon of 10, $1600

AK: Over the years, you have experimented with photograms using different printing techniques. Are you drawn to the process or the resulting color plate?

VM: I think both; the technical side of learning a new process excites me, and I love the challenge of translating my core materials into different photographic forms. As I get to know a new process, the color and mood, the benefits and limitations, inform the subject matter, which shifts a bit with each new project.

AK: Do you feel that the color plates result in a different psychological experience for the viewer?

VM: Yes, I think the various print processes evoke different experiences for the viewer. For example, my series, The Sun Beneath the Sky, is very bright and airy and could be seen as quite calming. On the other hand, some of the images set in the nighttime can have a somewhat uncanny feeling.

Vanessa Marsh, Western Landscape 7, Archival Pigment Ink Print (from scanned Cyanotype), 15x20 in, Editon of 10, $1600 

AK: You recently moved from the Bay Area to Oregon. How have the changing seasons in Oregon impacted how you work?

VM: Well, on a practical level, I had to re-think making Lumen prints with sunlight year-round as I had been able to do when I lived in California. This obstacle led me to investigate other ways of making that could be done in my studio during winter months. The seasons also inform how I collect reference images, as the flora shifts way more dramatically with the seasons here in Oregon than in California. Also, my subject matter is moving away from things like palm trees and towards ferns and blackberries. The images have always been amalgamations of various Western landscapes. However, the landscape I am presently living in comes to the forefront.


*      *      *


*      *      *

If you are in Santa Fe, please stop by we are open Tuesday– Saturday, from 10am- 5:30pm. 

300 Rufina Circle, Unit A3, Santa Fe, NM 87507

For more information, and to reserve one of these unique works, please contact 
Gallery Director Anne Kelly
You may also call us at (505) 988-5152 x202

Book Review Ray's a Laugh Photographs by Richard Billingham Reviewed by Blake Andrews “Ray’s A Laugh is legendary among photobooks, beloved by critics and casual fans alike. It’s hard to believe Richard Billingham was only 26 when the Scalo edition was published in 1996..."

Ray's a Laugh. By Richard Billingham.
Ray's a Laugh
Photographs by Richard Billingham
MACK Books, London, UK, 2024. 104 pp., 8¼x11".

Ray’s a Laugh is legendary among photobooks, beloved by critics and casual fans alike. It’s hard to believe Richard Billingham was only 26 when the Scalo edition was published in 1996. Adapting its title from an old BBC series, his debut monograph offered a candid and uncomfortably probing document of his working class family captured in their grungy flat in Cradley Heath, England. As Billingham described his father in the book’s brief text, “Raymond is a chronic alcoholic. He doesn’t like going outside and mostly drinks homebrew.” As for his mother, “Elizabeth hardly drinks but she does smoke a lot. She likes pets and things that are decorative.”

If Billingham’s words seemed a harsh judgment of his parents, his photographs aired their dirty laundry for all to see. Ray was depicted as a bumbling, groggy, and henpecked figure. Elizabeth muddled about in floral gowns and tattooed forearms, always with a cigarette. Revolving around the central couple was a supporting cast including Richard’s younger brother — “Ray says Jason is unruly. Jason says Ray’s a laugh but doesn’t want to be like him” — and a small army of skittish animals. Billingham used flash, blurred exposures, off-kilter composition, and tight framing to foster an impression of bed-spinning chaos. Ray was a laugh indeed. But it wasn’t clear if we were meant to laugh at him or with him.

The book’s unflinching gaze and brisk design made for a smash hit. Ray’s a Laugh earned the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now called the Deutsche Börse Prize), a rare plug from Robert Frank, a writeup in Parr/Badger Volume II, and a place in the photo canon for Billingham. All was well for Billingham enthusiasts, unless you were an unlucky latecomer hoping to hold his book in person. The initial editions quickly went out of print and have been hard to find since. A 2014 facsimile homage from Errata Editions stemmed market demand temporarily. But it was not exactly the real thing, and it proved to be just a stopgap measure.

Michael Mack to the rescue. In what has become a regular routine for his eponymous publisher, Mack’s recent edition of Ray’s a Laugh breathes new life into the old classic. The resuscitative impulse is familiar, but unlike most of Mack’s reprintings to date, this Ray’s a Laugh is radically altered from the original. According to Mack this is the “director’s cut” which restores Billingham’s original vision for the work. Director’s uncut is more like it. This sprawling update stakes out its own territory in a larger, thicker volume. The two books share the same genetic material. Beyond that, they are distant relatives.

One trait which distinguished the original Ray’s a Laugh was its economy of purpose. It was a relatively thin book packed with full bleed photographs, each one pulling equal weight in unison. Within the first five pages, Billingham had summarily set the scene geographically, introduced his parents, his brother, the pets, and the domestic chaos to come. In following rush of photos, Ray was almost always shown holding a drink or a greasy plate. The apartment was filthy. The pets were frantic. The colors were garish. Strangely inserted pictures of avian greenery hinted at better times, somewhere some place out there. The book struck an indelible crescendo with a centerfold of Ray cowering below an airborne cat.

Mack’s version tells roughly the same tale, and extends it into the next generation for good measure with photos of Jason’s infant. But this book’s journey is far more circuitous. Scalo’s original was 100 pages, while Mack’s clocks in at 320. A few dozen of them are taken up initially with monochrome impressions of Ray. In due time these morph into colorful apartment scenes. It’s another two dozen pages before we finally meet Jason. Other domestic elements gradually come into focus (or blur?) including Elizabeth, the resident dog and cat, flying objects, puzzles, and spills. Most subjects are just as frantic and belligerent as before, but at this syrupy pace their impact is measured. Meanwhile the book’s layout is varied, with images color corrected. Both features would work well in most photobooks, but here they defuse the in-your-face havoc which so electrified the original. The well placed bird photos, which struck a tone of alien dissonance before, are somewhat lost in the mix here. The blunt shock of the original is unpacked into a feature length epic which feels closer to cinema than snapshots.

On the plus side, the expanded scope allows inclusion of several standout images. A shaky photo of Ray behind unfocused shot glasses is a revelation, as is a somber portrait on the sofa lit by an extraordinary open flame. I have no idea how these were left out of the initial cut, but they’ve been happily restored. Other photos fill in missing gaps here and there with snatches of apartment interior or drunken incidents. Jason’s baby is a bright spot, as are glimpses of his partner. A picture of Ray holding his granddaughter is sweet and life affirming. These additions fill out the narrative of existential lineage. But the titular subject remains trapped in his small world. Ray’s a laugh still, just as he was twenty-eight years ago.

Unfortunately Billingham had little influence over Scalo’s original design. While this version of Ray’s a Laugh reinstates his envisioning of work, the expanded tome leaves less to the viewer’s imagination. The first edition was hermetic and assured, invasive if not outright creepy. In Parr/Badger’s words it was “raw, immediate, unpretentious, funny, touching, and desperate by turns.” The Mack version may also possess those traits, but they’re defused in a looser, free ranging tome. There is no explanatory text, no colophon, captions, dates, or written information of any kind. That material, plus critical analysis, is offered in a supplementary primer called Ray's a Laugh: A Reader, also available from MACK this Spring. As a minor homage to Scalo, it features the same cover as the first addition, a blurred visage of Ray Billingham against a red background, laughing to himself.

Purchase Book

Read More Book Reviews

Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at
Book Review The Artist’s Books By Francesca Woodman Reviewed by Meggan Gould "Francesca Woodman: The Artists Books has been sitting on my desk for some months, haunting me. I have been slow to open it, and slow to compose this eventual response; I keep getting circularly mired in trying to account for this reticence..."

The Artist’s Books. By Francesca Woodman.
The Artist’s Books
By Francesca Woodman

MACK Books, London, UK, 2023. 416 pp., 9¾x11¾".

Francesca Woodman: The Artists Books has been sitting on my desk for some months, haunting me. I have been slow to open it, and slow to compose this eventual response; I keep getting circularly mired in trying to account for this reticence.

The first few photography courses I took were in the continuing education program at the Rhode Island School of Design. My own obsession was instant and irrevocable, and I was soon earning minimum wage as a monitor in the continuing ed darkroom, using the earnings to buy any box of photo paper I could afford, and time in the lab to burn through the paper. The year was 2000, two decades after Francesca Woodman was an undergraduate student at RISD, and she still loomed large in the Providence photographic mystique. It feels like a confession then, that I never engaged much with Woodman’s work. Several iconic images were seared into my memory alongside a perfunctory, broad-stroke biography of her too-short life, but I had never sat long with the photographs themselves.

Until now. I open these pages, these books within a book. It is a weighty compendium: 412 pages and maybe 412 pounds to match. Within are reproduced, page by page, eight artist books that Woodman made between 1976 and 1980 while a student at RISD. The vessel for each of the eight books is a vintage notebook or journal, acquired by Woodman while studying abroad in Rome during her junior year in college.

MACK has done an extraordinary job reproducing these notebooks. Each page of once-white-now-yellowing notebook paper is laid out on the larger white pages, each gutter of original notebook aligned with the gutter of the larger tome. The tonality of the paper stocks is exquisitely rendered, and I drown, happy, in the details of the edges of the pages and their two-dimensional splay. The paper surface itself becomes as much a protagonist in these notebooks as Woodman herself. The bleeding of ink permeates multiple pages, water stains creep from edges, yellowing tape patches tears, crisp corners disintegrate. The trompe l’oeil reproduction makes me want to peel each original photo up from the uncannily perfect pages; I have a physical response that vacillates between extreme pleasure (visual) and frustration (tactile) at the flattened pages.

I cannot help but think of the scrawled surfaces of the notebook pages as akin to decorative rugs (in the best possible way) beneath Woodman’s square, concise photographs. In Portraits, Friends, Equations (1977-1978), Woodman’s page-rugs are an equation-ridden notebook that dates from 1894-1895; in Angels, Calendar Notebook (1977-1978) exquisitely rendered calligraphy gives us page after page of undated French poetry. In each: a juxtaposition of languages, or of sensibilities, lingers in the intersection between the found penwork and the silver gelatin insets.

“Blank” pages (devoid of text, image, or both) are reproduced in the notebooks as faithfully as those with Woodman’s glued or taped photographs, allowing us to experience the pacing as the artist would have, as if we had each notebook in hand. Untitled (Pilgrim Mills) includes only seven photographs, taken at the eponymous mill in Providence where she rented a studio before her year abroad. Its background is elaborate cursive jottings of names and numbers, unparseable. Blankness settles into its power as a theme; the photographic pacing within each notebook is irregular, and there are many stretches where page after page of comparative emptiness unfurl.

You may note that I have remained reticent to write about the photographs. A brief attempt: they are quiet riddles. Most are reliant on choreographed interior spaces. Fragments of bodies flit through a camera that is almost always low to the ground. Some are printed on transparencies, and dark photographic silver merges with the underlying handwriting. Woodman’s pencil notes and (very occasional) caption stop me as they almost pierce what becomes a consistent veil of multilayered illegibility. White paint covers some passages, frames some photos. Fluid and raw, the photographs somehow contain both joy and pain — or maybe prison and freedom — in equal measure.

It is hard not to think of the blank pages as evocative of the missing years of this artist, who ended her life at the age of 22. I don’t try too hard to decode the internal logic of any of the individual books, or maybe any of the individual photographs, although Katerina Jerinic, the Collections Curator for the Woodman Family Foundation, provides snippets of context for each of the notebooks. The book ends with a letter Woodman wrote to her parents from Rome, where she echoes my own haplessness, trying to make sense of the beauty, strangeness, and sadness of these sweet books:

“…i don’t seem to be able to take very nice pictures these days/It’s a little depressing especially since i am here in Italy, surrounded by beauty. So lately I’ve been sticking the things i did this fall into books like the one this paper came from. I’m not sure it helps the pictures but it does make me feel usefuller.”

Purchase Book

Read More Book Reviews

Meggan Gould is an artist living and working outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,, the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies, and Speos (Paris Photographic Institute), where she finally began her studies in photography. She received an MFA in photography from the University of Massachusetts — Dartmouth. She recently wrote a book, Sorry, No Pictures, about her own relationship to photography.
Book Review Collaboration A Potential History of Photography Reviewed by Brian Arnold "In 1992, I traveled to Bali, Indonesia for the first time as part of a study abroad program. I spent 6-months studying Balinese Hinduism and the remarkable music unique to the island. Since that time, Indonesia has been central in shaping my ideas about music, photography, art, and art history..."
A Potential History of Photography
Thames & Hudson, 2024. 288 pp., 724 color illustrations, 8¾x11½".

In 1968 Sontag recorded her impressions of a first visit to Vietnam in a book titled Trip to Hanoi, where she confessed early doubts about photography. She landed in Hanoi, only to realize that photographs had clouded her perspective with preconceptions of Vietnam. To understand how the war truly affected the people in the North, she needed to see beyond photographs.

— Thy Phu, Warring Visions

Collaboration is informed by decolonial, anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal, feminist and abolitionist struggles. We tried to reconstruct, challenge, imagine, and reenact collaboration as the different protagonists experienced it…We have not stopped with the photographer’s ‘intentions’ or ‘statements’, but rather we look at the photographic event as it unfolds over time. Attending the mode of participation of the photographed persons, in particular, enabled us to reconfigure also the participation of the photographers, not as solo masters but rather as parties to the event of photography.

Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography

In 1992, I traveled to Bali, Indonesia for the first time as part of a study abroad program. I spent 6-months studying Balinese Hinduism and the remarkable music unique to the island. Since that time, Indonesia has been central in shaping my ideas about music, photography, art, and art history. For decades now, I’ve struggled with the ethics of my work, a white man working in a colonized nation. I’ve always questioned my privilege in relation to my work in Indonesia — at times, I’ve been disgusted by it — and, as a result, I’ve found myself wrestling with complex ideas about power, imperialism, and personal identity. At times, my work with Indonesia has been profoundly humbling, empowering, and confusing, but, ultimately, I cling to the belief that I can contribute to new, anti-colonial histories. In developing my projects in Bali and Java, I have come to the conclusion that a truly revisionist approach to history has to be collaborative. We can’t erase colonialism, slavery, and imperialism, so we must think of new ways to share resources and try to tell larger stories about the consequences of subjugation.

Uyghur Community by Carolyn Drake

As one fully devoted to photography, I’ve been fascinated by the history of the medium since I first picked up a camera. I’ve hungrily read many different approaches to the subject, but none of them reflect the kinds of issues I found researching photography in Indonesia (the Szarkowski history, included Gordon Parks and Roy Decarava, but certainly never ventured into the dark history of photography as an essential tool of colonialism). Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography, a new book developed by Ariella Aisha Azoulay, Wendy Ewald, Susan Meiselas, Leigh Raiford, and Laura Wexler, comes as a breath of fresh air. It is the first history of photography I’ve read that starts with the understanding that the medium has been essential in establishing the racist, classist, and sexist foundations of our “democratic” institutions.

 Scherzo di Follia by Pierre-Louis Pierson

The book is divided into 8 sections (the authors call them clusters), each of these based on the premise that any photograph is an event, built on collaborative give-and-takes between the photographer(s) and subject(s). In presenting the various projects, the editors attempted to include the voices of both the makers and the subjects (to be clear, there is nothing about landscape or experimental approaches to photographic materials, this is strictly a sociological study of the medium). Indeed, Collaboration takes this a step further by encouraging all readers to treat the book as a living document; we as viewers are part of the collaboration by bringing meaning and conversation to photographs. The editors encourage us to use the book as a conversation starter, not necessarily as a completed work, and to bring it to our studios, galleries, and classrooms. This all-inclusive paradigm, for defining the photographic act and our understanding of the resulting images, is intended to help create a revisionist history, undermining Szarkowski’s (and so many others) need to point to individual genius.

Sabrina and Katrina by Endia Beal

Everything about the book is a collaboration, fully embracing its own core ideals. Compiled by the 5 editors, each representing different disciplines or approaches to photography, the clusters are built around different themes, each detailing a variety of photographic projects. The projects are each presented with a selection of pictures accompanied by quotes from their makers, including both the photographers and, when possible, the subjects. The editors selected the work, but rather than giving their own reasons for inclusion, they asked different writers to respond to each of the individual projects, ensuring that every component of the book is a collaboration, enriched with layers of conversation. Some of these writers are familiar names, but many I had to look up. And, like the editors themselves, the contributing authors represent an array of disciplines and perspectives, creating a truly interdisciplinary approach to the medium.

Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography

I want to conclude by returning to Indonesia; this book facilitated a great deal of introspection on that work in ways that are helpful in relating my understanding of the editors’ intentions. About 2-months after returning from my study abroad program, I met with a Peace Corps volunteer on my college campus. We talked about a lot of things, but what sticks with me is our conversation about privilege. I’d spent the previous months living in Peliatan, a village of about 6,000 in south Bali. There was one phone and one fax machine for the entire village (this was pre-internet). Most people had refrigerators and TVs, but electricity could be intermittent and there were no such things as laundry machines or VCRs. When I got home, I felt so disgusted by the American abundance that I saw clearly for the first time. I told the volunteer I wanted to give away everything I own and move back to Bali so that I could spend the rest of my life studying gamelan and Hinduism. The volunteer was an African American woman who just returned from service in Ghana. She too was wrestling with some big questions about personal and cultural identity. I remember one thing she told me quite clearly — never give up your privilege, but always strive to make sure you are using it for good instead of propagating more abuse. Indeed, this stuck with me to the point that I’ve worked to make it the defining element of my work in Indonesia since.

Aaliya, digital collage by Hamida Zourgui. Original photograph by Jean Besancenot.

Notions of privilege aren’t overtly discussed in Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography, but I do think this is important in understanding the ideas presented by the authors. If collaboration is defined by sharing and exchanging resources, then sharing privilege is necessary for tipping the balance of powers, making a society that is truly democratic, not just in name, and escaping the boundaries of imperialism, patriarchy, and dominance. To be honest, there are things I don’t like about Collaboration (there is just a little information about a lot of photographic projects and ideas, making it read a bit like a historical tapas), but I also feel it offers essential ideas for recreating cultural and photographic paradigms. And, regardless, I think the book a must for anyone interested in photographic history or education.

Purchase Book

Read More Book Reviews

Brian Arnold
is a photographer, writer, and translator based in Ithaca, NY. He has taught and exhibited his work around the world and published books, including A History of Photography in Indonesia, with Oxford University Press, Cornell University, Amsterdam University, and Afterhours Books. Brian is a two-time MacDowell Fellow and in 2014 received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Institute for Indonesian Studies.
Book Review Winogrand Color Photographs by Garry Winogrand Reviewed by Blake Andrews “Alas, poor Winogrand. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He was only 56 when cancer cut him down in 1984. Curators have spent the succeeding years attempting to reanimate the corpus. Task number one was to develop and sort the reams of film he’d left behind..."

Winogrand Color. By Garry Winogrand.
Winogrand Color
Photographs by Garry Winogrand
Twin Palms, Santa Fe, NM, 2023. 212 pp., 156 color plates, 12½x12½".

Alas, poor Winogrand. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He was only 56 when cancer cut him down in 1984. Curators have spent the succeeding years attempting to reanimate the corpus. Task number one was to develop and sort the reams of film he’d left behind. John Szarkowski and crew tackled that one. They processed, proofed, and sifted thousands of unseen rolls, paving the way for the blockbuster MoMA exhibition/book Figments of The Real World in 1988. By Szarkowski’s reckoning Winogrand was “the central photographer of his time.” A definitive judgement it would seem. But his opinion was merely the first of many to come.

After Szarkowski, various others took a stab, each mixing unpublished work with reconsidered favorites in varying ratios. The Fraenkel Gallery produced The Man in The Crowd in 1998. In 2002, Trudy Wilner Stack’s Winogrand 1964 focused on the titular year. She was the first of his posthumous champions to dip a tentative toe into his color work. Alex Harris focused on airports the next year with Arrivals & Departures.

These efforts helped set the stage for Leo Rubinfien’s monster SFMoMA retrospective in 2013, the eponymous exhibition/book Garry Winogrand. You might think this exhaustive tome would put his legacy to rest for a while. But it wasn’t too long before Geoff Dyer had a go. His 2018 book of essays The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand, borrowed from Szarkowski in format if not assessment. It dived further into his unseen color slides, with photos spiced with roaming asides. “I’m sure Dyer's book won't be the last on Winogrand,” I speculated at the time. “Another one will come along in, say, five years or so.”

Right on cue, the latest Winogrand book has hit the shelves. Co-curated by Michael Almereyda (director of William Eggleston In The Real World) and Susan Kismaric (photo curator at MoMA), Winogrand Color is the first book to cast the late maestro under a fully chromatic lens. With most of the photo world embracing a color palette now, such a reconsideration was probably inevitable. Indeed, it joins a glut of rose-colored crate digs, alongside recent monographs on Joel Meyerowitz, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter, and Werner Bischoff. As it turns out, Winogrand left more than enough breadcrumbs to blaze a color trail. Black-and-white may have been his first love, but he also shot Kodachrome and Ektachrome on occasion, at least in his early career. By the late 1960s those color efforts had mostly fizzled, discouraged by expense, printing difficulties, and a carousel mishap at the 1967 New Documents exhibition. Nevertheless, he managed to expose 45,000 color slides alongside the millions of monochromes. They’re stored with his archives at CCP in Tucson.

Almereyda and Kismaric were given full access to the mounted slides. They were stored in boxes, some seen, some unseen. The pair went about their task with patient diligence, beginning in 2017. “Susan and I were looking for needles in the massive archival haystack,” Almereyda writes. By the time they’d finished six years had passed, with a midpoint detour for a yet another blowout Winogrand exhibition. This one, at the Brooklyn Museum in 2019, was presented as a rotating installation of 425 color slides. It served as a rough precursor to the book’s final selection of 150 plates.

Technically speaking, Winogrand Color spans the early 50s through late 60s. But the vast majority are from a narrow sweet spot, roughly 1962-1966. This was a period of active transition and experimentation for Winogrand. He was still doing commercial assignments, and he viewed color photos as a potential window to job opportunities. At the same time, he felt increasingly drawn to photography as an art form, as a way of life in fact. As he would say later, “my only interest in photographing is photography.” In the early 60s he hadn’t yet fully adjusted to the sentiment, but the ingredients were in place. His 1963 Guggenheim application signaled an aspirational leap from commerce into fine art. Fortunately his application was approved. Better yet, from the POV of Almereyda and Kismaric, he brought color film along on the subsequent road trip. His magical year of 1964 produced a hit parade of all-time winners, and some strong color images. As Almereyda explains in the introduction, Stack’s Winogrand 1964 was the initial inspiration for Winogrand Color.

Winogrand’s 1964 road trip sketched a loose map of his life journey. He traced a path westward over his career, from New York to Texas to California, with various stopovers in between. Winogrand Color is structured accordingly. The sequence is roughly chronological, and follows a general trajectory to LA. The earliest photo is from Coney Island in 1951, when Winogrand was just 23. By the final few pages, he’s reached the Pacific. He’s soaking up the California surf culture, the leading edge of the sixties sunbelt migration.

What transpired in the intervening years? Well, that is the story of Winogrand Color. The book presents a remarkable study of Winogrand’s young life and his rapidly maturing style. We’ve seen glimpses of this period before, but almost exclusively in b/w. If those facts were mysterious, the color work is more clearly described. With rainbowed hindsight, it carries a Wizard of Oz punch. The book’s initial sequence is shot with a long lens, isolating beach goers in moments of reverie. These photos probe the inner thoughts of strangers in a way that would become a Winogrand hallmark. But they are narrow snatches, a far cry from the stilted wide-angle inhalations to come. That style comes into sharper focus as the book moves gradually onto New York City sidewalks. These mid-60s street candids are restless. He was hungry for action, but color was a bucking bronco. His lassoings were scattershot, with mixed lens lengths, depth of field, and clarity. Still, they have a kernel of Winogrand’s wit. His naked curiosity comes through, his penetrating gaze in search of serendipitous moments. And some of the resulting frames are well seen, e.g. a woman in white gloves departing a taxi and a gawking family surrounded by urban greyscale. Both lean on color for visual power. As b/w pictures they would probably miss, at least by my rough guess.

Soon enough we get a chance to test this theory in practice, in the form of a color frame from the Central Park Zoo in 1967. It’s the chimp-holding mixed raced couple made infamous by Winogrand in black-and-white. But in this version the racial subtext is defanged, its content subjugated by colorful outfits and vibrant mood. Alas, form wins again. Just another relaxing Sunday stroll in the park. “The photograph should be more interesting or beautiful than what was photographed,” preached Winogrand. But in this case he’s fallen short. One reason he may have preferred monochrome is that its translation divorced itself naturally from reality. He could slot illusions into the breach. Color film could do the same of course, but the dance was trickier.

He seemed to have similar difficulties elsewhere. Winogrand Color includes several dozen “almost” photos. These are decent frames that work pretty well. But they lack the je ne sais quoi which lifted so many of Winogrand’s pictures into stellar territory. The New York sidewalk photos are entertaining enough, but none are exceptional. The same can be said for his western roamings. Feeling unmoored, he clung to events, fairs, and resorts. “When you put four edges around some facts,” he said, “you change those facts.” The same might apply to car-bound photographers. Nevertheless, he captured static scenes dutifully. When he broke free, he hit occasional pay dirt, as with random green phone booths in El Paso, or a windshield cowboy snapshot from Texas. These are among perhaps a dozen exceptional frames in a book which is largely pedestrian. By the time it winds down on the beach in California, Winogrand has reverted to the same stale long-lens closeups of his youth.

He’s come full circle it seems, and so have his readers. The book’s two best single images — a prismatic poolside from Tahoe and ghostly angel from Dallas — appeared already in Winogrand 1964. If the bones of his archive hadn’t yet been picked clean for Stack’s book, they certainly have by now.

Or have they? The most tantalizing questions raised by Winogrand Color concern the process of curation. For this book is not an unfiltered sample. Any view into his unseen oeuvre is tantalizing, but it comes with a guide. As with other posthumous curations, Winogrand’s archive presents a Rorschach test for scholars. Do they look for pictures to match preconceptions or defy them? Did Winogrand shoot any strange mistakes, half frames, mis-advanced rolls, light leaks, double exposures? Did he shoot photos of his family? Of his home? Of subways? Of nature? Did he shoot outside the U.S.? Who knows. One thing is certain though. Winogrand Color won't be the last book on Garry Winogrand. Another one will come along in, say, five years or so.

Purchase Book

Read More Book Reviews

Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at