Garry Winogrand, Utah, 1964
Mark Steinmetz opened his talk at California College of the Arts (sponsored by Pier 24, part of the Larry Sultan Visiting Artist Program) with the above Winogrand photo. He said he had discovered it in his high school library in Iowa; he didn’t learn the photographer’s name, but something about it seemed different from other photographs in magazines. Later, Steinmetz dropped out of the Yale MFA program and went to Los Angeles, because that’s where Winogrand was known to reside. Before Twitter or cell phones, Steinmetz managed to track him down. He spent time shooting with Winogrand during the last year of his life. And a few early works of his own in the slide deck were clearly Winogrand-inspired. I’m very familiar with Steinmetz’s work, read his interviews, yet I wasn’t aware of this direct Winogrand connection.
Mark Steinmetz, from Greater Atlanta
What’s interesting about this surprise, is that Steinmetz’s books and work seem like an antidote to Winogrand’s unfinished, unedited, agitated world. If you’ve listened to and read Winogrand interviews, there are several quotes about the desire never to make the same photograph twice, or repeat somebody else’s image. Winogrand said that photographs don’t tell stories (“they don’t have any narrative ability at all”), and he distanced himself from the perceived subject matter depicted in his work.
Steinmetz makes no effort to avoid the quotation or reprise. He often connects characters in his own photographs (a boy by a pond in Los Angeles, another boy on a bench in Paris) and with paintings (during the lecture he mentioned works by Raphael and Picasso). He embraces those references, of making books that refer to each other, of repeating themes. He discussed being in Rome, seeing a Bernini and wanting to make a photograph like it. His books South East and South Central are structured to echo each other.
From the number of times he mentioned it, Steinmetz mainly uses a 6x9 camera (perhaps the Fuji). He often uses a tripod, even for shots that look handheld. Steinmetz discussed the fact that outside of cities, America is often very empty. It’s not as feasible to snap photographs of people as Winogrand did in Manhattan or Los Angeles. Going in the other direction, Steinmetz approaches and talks to his subjects, sometimes altering where they stand or their pose, to get the best out of situations with natural light.
What he referred to a few times, perhaps the Winogrand influence, is somewhere in most of his portraits there’s some action or unexpected physical element. Even if he’s directing the subject a bit, even if the camera is on a tripod, there’s still a hand gesture, eating, stirring, waving.
Related to why and how certain subjects are captured photographs, if you haven’t listened to Ian Bogost’s short video on Garry Winogrand, do so. It was produced for a philosophy conference (object-oriented ontology). A key quote is, “people, events, social conditions aren’t in Winogrand’s photographs to become his subjects; they are there just because they were there. Just Because.”
Much of what Mark Steinmetz talked about during his lecture is covered in two excellent interviews: Ahorn magazine (Daniel Augschoell and Anya Jasbar) and Blake Andrews. In San Francisco a show of Steinmetz’s exquisite prints is up until the end of April at Stephen Wirtz Gallery. Finally, spend time at Steinmetz’s web site, it’s well-designed.