Cellphones are the new cigarettes.

It’s the only way I can figure out the burst of pixels that are barfed out on the Internet from every single person with a cellphone camera. Eventually a warning with be issued by manufacturers of these devices (emblazoned on the back, just under the camera lens), “Warning: May Cause brain damage, vehicular fatalities, and boring pictures.” Imagine if we turned off the Internet, radical idea I know.

By the end of my freshman year at college I decided to get my degree in Photography, and my only inspiration was my father. I learned by witnessing him make pictures in the darkroom and eventually learned how to print at the family business, and he took pictures of me every chance he got. Early sophomore year in Photo II, I was a Gerry Uelsmann devotee, and then I discovered Garry Winogrand when I was given an assignment to describe one of his pictures. This is the thing about Winogrand, he made pictures, and he didn’t “take” anything. Geoff Dyer and the fine people at The University of Texas have put together a must have collection of one hundred Winogrand winners – each accompanied by a short essay written by Dyer – which reacts and often analyzes the images.

Cellphones are a cancer on photography, and Chemotherapy won’t help. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Everyone is a photographer, and I wonder where Garry Winogrand would fall in today’s selfie environment? It makes it hard to stand out when everyone is doing it.

The book follows Winogrand from New York, his travels in the 1950’s, then a Guggenheim-funded road trip of 1964; visits to Europe in 1967, 1969 and a return to New York. After that he lived in Austin circa 1973, and finally to Los Angeles where he died in 1984 at age fifty-six. This story tells you nothing; you need to do some seeing to get what I’m talking about.

Specifically the last two pictures, plate 99 and 100.

Plate 99: is taken from the passenger seat while someone else is driving Winogrand around. He was too sick to drive (as I heard it, this picture is from the years in L.A.) and the picture is of a woman collapsed on the side of the road in Downtown LA, right in front of a Denny’s. A high-end sports car wiggles between the fallen woman and the camera. If you blink it’s gone. Dyer quotes Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski who termed it, “a creative impulse out of control” and “on some days a habit without an impulse,” which basically describes Winogrand’s picture taking abilities, especially in this image. Nothing got by him. But no one is running to help this woman. Is she dead? Just hit be a car? It is so jarring to look at, and Dyer left it to the end of the book! When Winogrand died he never saw this image, as it was part of the 6,500 rolls he developed but didn’t print. In addition he left 2,500 exposed rolls undeveloped. Just think about that. 36 frames a roll, (I’m guessing it could be 24, but lets aim high) and “in his Los Angeles years he made more than a third of a million exposures that he never looked at”, according to Szarkowski. That’s a lot. Now, put a digital camera in Winogrand’s hands. I dare you.

Plate 100: the slam-dunk of images from Winogrand and the one I’d spend any amount of money to get a copy of. In the picture, Winogrand is high above a set of stairs that has two levels, and runs parallel to a road. On the lower right side of the picture lounging on the stairs is a young couple looking up at Winogrand from his perch on the overpass. On the ascending stairs on the left side of the image is a man using two hands on the railing as he climbs up. This man is dressed in a jacket and sports a sneaky receding hairline. Then, in the background of the image, but up on the overpass above the stairs is Winogrand in shadow taking the picture. The shadow oversees everything. He’s there in the picture and taking the picture. The swirling narrative is breathtaking.

Seek this book out at your local bookstore and stare at this picture. Really stare at it. Think about the dynamics, geometry, and the solitude of Winogrand’s work, because there is struggle here, curiosity, and love. Beauty is almost a dirty tissue to Winnogrand, four people, three players and the puppet master. Dyer asks in the essay, “The young couple are looking up-at what?” Duh, Winogrand. The man is climbing the stairs, the sunlight is blasting down on Winogrand and the shadow of the bridge Winogrand is on cuts the image in half. Get your phone and go out right now and try to take a picture like this. Try. It’s the up and down of life, the hopelessness of it all captured in the center of his world. This is why Winogrand was so good at “taking”. His work says more about the loneliness of the human condition than anything else.

Looping back to the start of this book, Dyer talks about a picture Winogrand took in Kalamazoo, MI circa 1958. Eleven people sit in and around a porch, all but three are on the porch itself. In the background a freight train rolls through, and the family (I’m going to bet it is) are all bored to tears. No one is looking at Winogrand. It’s the unguarded moment. Each of the eleven people is looking at something different. Again, buy this book. Look at the thumping quality of this picture, and it is just the first one. What was Winogrand trying to see here? What was he trying to tell the viewer, and why this moment? You need to tell the truth even when no one is looking, and you see honesty in every person he photographs.

Dyer takes us into some of Winogrand’s color work, and for this viewer that’s hard to swallow, as I don’t recall seeing much of it. I do admit to knowing it existed but refused to engage. The fallen woman in front of Denny’s trapped in a black & white world has such a power over me.

Plate 11 (early in the book and a glowing example of color in Winogrand’s work) is more about geometry than image, though the white women on the beach aping a Hollywood pose with an indistinguishable family of African Americans crowded on one blanket in the middle ground seems to say more about social standing than color, ironic if nothing else. The nice white ladies are dressed for the beach in their Capri’s and sunglasses. Up above is a house on the cliff under a blue sky, it’s a vertical picture and screams New York City, not the unlimited horizontal flow of Los Angeles. Finally, we see cars hanging like a string of Christmas lights over the sunbathers; sunken just enough in a parking lot, (along the line where a horizon would normally be) and it tells me you can go anywhere. But capitalism is exhausting, so take a break the beach.

From the introduction: “You’re talking about meaning,” Winogrand would complain to questioners. “I want to talk about pictures.”

But Dyer can’t do that without talking about what they might mean, and he does it in spades. Where does the vision come from? The act and art of taking pictures or the meaning you’re intending on capturing and later talking about to viewers. Do you hope they get your meaning by looking at your work? I can spot a Winogrand instantly. I know his style. Isn’t that everything? Form and meaning are liquid, and can change. But an artist’s style is the whole shooting match.

It’s hard to let this book sit and not pick it up.

I direct you to plate 81, the off center players at an airport. Dyer comments on the suitcase left unattended, and the way the girl holds her hair back when listening to the man she is with. This was a way men and women communicated back then, Dyer points out. Dyer’s comments are neither here nor there, but what is most important to me is the distance to the subjects from the edge of the frame, and the moment Winogrand chose to squeeze the shutter. What was he waiting for? For this? Did he see her move her hair back? Or notice that the man was making a point, (newspaper in his lap, maybe some early mansplaining?) They are dressed for business, her in a dress and him in suit and tie. His hair is ‘Leave it to Beaver’ cropped, and hers below the shoulder, possibly blown out with a hair dryer, and her dress hemline still low. The stockings and shoes speak to a modern woman. She is classy but not bougy, fashionable without being provocative.

My question is this. Did he know this series of gestures was coming? (Man with one hand out flat, her with a hand under an elbow as the other hand holds back her hair. Her gesture was held for a moment, maybe five seconds I’m guessing) this exchange, and did he wait for it, or get lucky and capture it? We won’t know. But we do have the final picture. This couple, business acquaintances or husband wife traveling somewhere, not here or there, just waiting. Winogrand waited too. It’s the seconds before the shot, which seem most critical to the images in this book. You look through the viewfinder and see it, squeeze the shutter and that’s it. Other times you look through the viewfinder because that is the only way you can look at the world.

He was trained by what he saw. Behavior can be predictable, sometimes. Winogrand saw the patterns in life and curated the ones that made his work so powerful. Winogrand was a master of the street photography and making pictures long before photography morphed into a Zombie virus.