Learning to See

Ponsonby Auckland, NZ 2011 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

Last year I attended an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, showing original works from Arbus, Friedlander, Evans, and Winogrand, among others. I felt as close to royalty as I ever had been, in that moment. It was an inspiration to see the prints, mostly small in size, in person, warts and all.

Currently I am re-reading Winogrand: Figments from the Real World, by John Szarkowski. This may be the fourth time I have issued the book from the Central Library although I always glean fresh new insights each time I read the book. The man himself was warts and all, and he gave us his only self in every picture. Except for the really early work, that is.

Winogrand’s earlier work during the ‘Eisenhower‘ years of the 1950’s was markedly different to the work he would produce only a few years later, post 1961. It was more reserved, more far away, and had it not been for the rest of his oeuvre, I would say it was simply lacking.

I think he was learning how to see. You could say these were his discovery years. I think what drove Winogrand to pursue his way of photography is as fascinating as the photographs themselves. Ultimately he became consumed by it, and towards the end of his life he had lost track of (or perhaps avoided) developing and printing, and simply kept shooting compulsively. He shot over a million frames in his lifetime (pre-digital).

It has taken me over 15 years to learn how to see. Trawling through thousands of my own film negatives and slides in the past couple of weeks, I have come to realize why I am doing what I am doing. I don’t think I knew that until now.

If something you do in this life makes you feel great in every way, then simply do that as often as possible.

There is no substitute.

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