About photobooks – old and new.
Title: The Animals
Author: Garry Winogrand
Published in 1969, by The Museum of Modern Art.
First edition, softcover photographically illustrated, 4to, 50 pages.
Garry Winogrand (1928, 1984) was essentially a New York and street photographer from the Bronx, known for his portrayal of the american life. He developed a new street photography style and became a central figure of his generation. In 1967, he was among the three photographers, with Diana Arbus and Lee Friedlander, that took part of the New Documents exhibition organized by John Szarkowski at the MOMA.
In 1969, in the context of his first solo exhibition at the MOMA, Winogrand published “The Animals”, his first photobook. “The Animals” are pictures taken at the Central Park Zoo and the Coney Island Aquarium. Many of these pictures observe the connections between humans and animals. And as Fernando Pessoa said “there is no firm criteria to distinguish the two”, depending on the system of beliefs, the criteria is different.
As John Szarkowski comments in his text accompanying the images, Winogrand’s zoo is a grotesquery, where both visitors and animals stare at each other through the bars, exhibiting their ridiculous manners. The elephant pictures in particular, reveal unflattering scenes of animals humiliating themselves for a bit of food. As Szarkowski says, this book challenges our common understanding of an entertaining visit to the zoo.
The Central Park Zoo can also be considered an observable microcosm of behavioral changes resulting from living in confined spaces. In that sense, “The Animals” in the zoo are an analogy of the life experienced by typical modern urban dwellers.
“The Animals” also contains Winogrand’s emblematic images and conceptual approach to photography, which redefined street photography. In these pictures the drama is exacerbated by the juxtaposition of humans and animals in the zoo and the tilted horizons. These are compositional elements typical in Garry Winogrand’s work, effectively used in the zoo work to jolt our senses and provoque our conventional perspective on zoos and on ourselves.
In his perspective, the distance between what the photographer captures and the actual subject should be the photographer’s concern. This is the space a photographer can explore to express his intentions, adding more drama to the scene or the subject itself.