"Metropolitan Opera, New York" Garry Winogrand (circa 1951)
At first glance this couple at the Metropolitan Opera (circa 1951) appear to be just another well-to-do couple enjoying some champagne between acts. Yet on closer inspection, one notices a few things. There is the tight cropping of the image that pushes them to the side, making the woman the center of attention. There is the woman's heavy make-up, her face a white mask compared to the muted shades around her. And then there are the raised glasses. Did they strike a pose, aware of the photographer, or did they just happen to be raising their glasses in a toast? And if so, what were they toasting?
The photo is the work of Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), one of the great street photographers who documented life in New York and the rest of the country from the 1950s to the 1980s. He was a relentless chronicler of post-war America, shooting 26,000 rolls of everyone—the rich and poor, the famous and the unknown, animals at zoos and people at airports. Winogrand, who called himself a “student of America,” famously showed no interest in editing his work, preferring instead to be out shooting, forever on the hunt for his next subject. When he died, he left behind thousands of undeveloped images and contact sheets of work that were never exhibited, including this photograph.
Earlier this fall, I saw this in the Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Met. Of the 175 images on display, 65 were never seen during Winogrand’s lifetime. It was a fabulous exhibit that was also very inspirational. And it introduced me to this photograph that I find so intriguing.
The Met show has closed but if you’re in Paris, you can see this photo along with the rest of the retrospective at the Jeu de Paume through February 8, 2015. Or check out the catalogue here.