Curator Leo Rubinfien On the Tumultuous Legacy of a Groundbreaking American Photographer
Americans clink martini glasses, gurn, and strut in this selection of images embodying the “muscular” style of street photography pioneer Garry Winogrand, whose first exhibition in a quarter century opens this week at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Specially selected by the retrospective’s curator Leo Rubinfien, the shots provide a glimpse into the Bronx-born lensman’s pivotal but at times unsung post-war oeuvre. Having begun snapping passers-by on the streets of the United States in the mid-20th century, Winogrand left his work somewhat in disarray before his sudden death in 1984, and 250,000 photographs remained unprinted and unseen. A self-described “student of America,” Winogrand’s backdrops range from city blocks and open roads to quiet suburbs and farms packed with livestock. Among the estimated 2 million people to have been captured by his camera are, notoriously, innumerable portraits of women—ballet dancers, debutantes, and gossiping friends, sometimes caked in make-up or otherwise au naturel, bathing or laughing. These and other archival finds place Winogrand alongside Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Robert Frank, as a member of a generation that dramatically transformed the way we perceive the medium of photography. Rubinfien, a lauded photographer in his own right, came to prominence as part of a cohort exploring the possibilities of color film in the 1970s, and has exhibited at venues such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “He gives us a vast, encompassing view of American life,” says Rubenfien of today's urban portraitist, who was also his friend and mentor. “He sees from horizon to horizon.”
You identify both prosperity and isolation in Winogrand’s post-war photographs—can you tell us something about the tension between the two?
Leo Rubinfien: Most all of Winogrand's photographs of businessmen from the early to mid-60s are full of the sense of the great boom of that decade. Many of his predecessors in photography were concerned not with prosperity, but with poverty—for Winogrand to photograph the businessmen, or the beautifully dressed and coiffed women in midtown, was a deliberate choice. He admired the work of Robert Frank almost more than that of any other photographer, yet criticized him for “missing the main story of his time,” which, he explained, was “the move to the suburbs.” Winogrand did not miss that move. A central part of what he had to show us was the great vacant spaces one finds in the suburbs of America, and the wide-angle lenses that he characteristically used after about 1958 amplified that sense of vacancy. They produce a strong sense of the gaps between people and of the broken connections between them.
Could you tell me about a particular revelation or discovery that has come out of the process of going through Winogrand’s fast archive?
LR: Well, there's obviously the late work which, re-edited now, has a very particular poetry to it that is different from that of Winogrand's earlier years—it’s very dark, full of pathos. And there are the photographs of 1960-63. I had no idea how rich that work was when I began this project, because most of it was hidden away, and no prints existed of many of the best images. I’d naturally assumed—from what had been exhibited and published—that Winogrand’s strongest years were 1967-1971 but today I’d vote for 1960-64, when pictures of great beauty seemed to spill out of him as if he were an overfull glass.
What influence has Winogrand had on your own practice?
LR: What remains with me is Winogrand’s double insistence that a photograph must be absolutely truthful—that a photographer must never let himself be carried away by aesthetic effect, and then that it must be dramatic. Truthful and dramatic are usually contradictory, of course, and finding a balance between them, moment by moment, is a central part of what one does when one makes pictures, or writes, or produces any other kind of artistic work. Winogrand set in my mind a standard for each. What one does must be authentic, but it must also strive to be bigger, brighter, more interesting and more vivid than life itself is at any moment.
Filmmaker Gia Coppola Conjures a Las Vegas Love Story for Her Cousin’s New Music Video
Musician Robert Schwartzman stars as a debt-ridden goofball on the run from the mob who falls for a blackjack dealer, played by Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu, in director Gia Coppola’s new video for “All My Life”. The video remixes footage from Coppola’s recent short film Casino Moon, shot over two frantic days and nights on location in Nevada’s gambling mecca. A Sin City-based homage to romantic heist movies like Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde, the short was made as part of a series commissioned by director Alexi Tan for Elle China and premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival earlier this year. Written when Schwartzman was single and channeling the feeling of being by oneself, “All My Life” is taken from the Rooney frontman’s debut solo album Double Capricorn released last year and was adapted to soundtrack Casino Moon. “When you fall in love you kind of build your own little world together and lose touch of the other world,” explains Schwartzman. “In Gia’s short, they fall in love pretty quickly, keeping up with the Vegas speed of things. I feel like it’s an adventure, like love is an adventure.” A member of the filmmaking dynasty, Coppola’s fashion films for the likes of Opening Ceremony, United Arrows and DvF—imbued with the laconic eccentricity of her native Los Angeles—have cemented her reputation as a rising cinematic talent. Here, cousins Schwartzman and Coppola talk Vegas time warps and electric blue suits.
Robert Schwartzman: This is the first time we went to Vegas together. My first trip there was when I turned 21. I thought I cracked the code. I thought I could beat the system. I ended up winning a lot of money, and then losing it, and then a lot more.
Gia Coppola: I remember when you came back from that trip and everyone was like, “Don’t mention Vegas to Robert.” You were so bummed.
RS: I lost a lot of money. I got cocky. Anyway, I think Vegas is actually really calming. All the energy and craziness is relaxing in a weird way. I don’t know what it is. I like being awake and knowing that there is so much life going on. You lose track of time.
GC: Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why I like it. Everything is alive to some extent—there’s always someone around. That’s why grandpa [Francis Ford Coppola], your uncle, used to always go there to write: you can always get a burger at any time of night, you never know what time it is, and you never feel the pressure to go to bed.
RS: When you play shows there the bus parks in the back, you enter through the employee entrance and eat at the behind-the-scenes buffet with all the showgirls and cocktail waitresses. It’s pretty wild. You feel like you are part of something that most people don’t get to see.
GC: Whoa. It’s so hard to imagine what it’s like to live there so it’s nice when you get to actually see people kind of off duty. You can be as weird as you want in Vegas and no one will judge you.
RS: One time I was in Vegas and I had on this pea coat that I had made in electric blue leather. Very bold, very bright, like neon blue almost. It looked really ridiculous. My brother was with me and there was this dude in a snakeskin suit who was staring at me, in awe of my jacket. My brother was like, “Even a man in a snakeskin suit was impressed by your electric blue pea coat!”
GC: I feel like we’re more siblings than cousins. You used to drive me to school every morning and rub my face in the dirt.
RS: I always thought I was so much older than you because I’d have to babysit you. When everyone would go see a movie they’d leave me behind with you. Even though we were so close in age. In my mind I was always looking out for you. A lot of memories.
GC: We always had to share a room on family trips.
RS: Yeah, eating at the kids table and going on family trips. You and I spent the most time together. We just have fun together.
GC: We’re still the kids.
The Rising Chinese Designer Shares His Visual Diary of London Collections: Men
Taking in fittings and model castings, backstage show-day chaos, and the wonders of Soho and Shoreditch nightlife, celebrated young Chinese designer Xander Zhou documents his intimate experience of debuting at the inaugural London Collections: Men. Exhibiting his minimalist take on menswear in the capital for the first time, the Beijing-based aesthete moved into the illustrious St. Martins Lane Hotel a month before fashion week and set up a temporary studio in the West End to finish the preparations. The designer has shown 11 collections in China, launched his eponymous label in 2007 and has dressed leading celebrities like actresses Zhou Xun, Fan Bingbing, actor Chen Kun and Edison Chen. Zhou closed the Friday evening of London Collections: Men with Fleurdelism—his spring/summer collection of deconstructed silk suits and paneled satin T-shirts, inspired by boy scouts and lilies. “Design is an international language; it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it matters what you do,” he explains. “My generation’s background is very complicated—I was born in China, I studied in the Netherlands, I came back to China again. I travel a lot so I’ve seen many things, and I think this generation of Chinese young people is more confident to share its ideas with the world.”
Check out Facebook for our exclusive Q&A with Xander Zhou on Boy Scouts, futuristic fabric and the inspiration behind his collection.