“Women Are Beautiful” by Garry Winogrand

by Chloe Babcock, AD&A Museum Intern

Fig. 1: Garry Winogrand (1928–1984), New York (n.d.), gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Justin Ebersman, 1984.217. Art, Design and Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara.

My initial encounter with this photograph was during my return visit to the AD&A Museum since its pandemic related closure. I was excited just to be back inside the museum, and when confronted with this photograph of a woman laughing while holding an ice cream cone, my already happy emotions were heightened. The authenticity and prominence of the subject’s laughter creates a quality of contagion, and brought a big smile to my face when I first looked at the image. I still often find myself smiling when I look at it. Her expression is so familiar to me, emulating how my good friends and I often look when we laugh together, which is one of my favorite activities.

New York is a part of Winogrand’s mid-1960s to mid-1970s series entitled “Women Are Beautiful,” consisting of a plethora of black and white images of women in urban settings. The series was exhibited at the AD&A Museum in 2015, and the individual images can be accessed through the Museum’s online database.

Fig. 2: Garry Winogrand, Smoking Cigarettes (n.d.), gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Justin Ebersman, 1985.35. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; UC Santa Barbara.

The photographs are relatively all unposed, in the style of street photography. Some of the female subjects appear to be conscious of the photographer, demonstrated by their eye contact or display of emotion directly at the camera, while others are captured in moments of preoccupation or general unawareness. In both situations, the subjects appear to have their photographs taken instantaneously, allowing for moments of rawness and reality. This is a huge reason why I personally love Winogrand’s work– because it is authentic, able to capture both motion and emotion, and a time capsule of the decade.

Fig. 3: Garry Winogrand, Histrionics on Bench (n.d.), gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Justin Ebersman, 1985.26. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; UC Santa Barbara.

Another aspect of the series that I really appreciate is that although it is titled “Women are Beautiful,” many of the photos do not portray traditional female beauty expectations. Smoking Cigarettes (fig. 2), Histrionics on Bench (fig. 3), and Waitresses and Mountains (fig. 4) all present women in rather unglamorous, ordinary scenarios, with some figures displaying relatively displeased expressions. Overall, it is the unposed, candid nature of the photos that makes them truly beautiful.

Fig. 4: Garry Winogrand, Waitresses and Mountains (n.d.), gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Justin Ebersman, 1985.22. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; UC Santa Barbara.

With street photography comes the issue of consent. Additionally, the heteronormative concept and stereotype of a man taking nonconsentual photographs of women has raised debate over whether this project had predatory motives. The images, taken at the height of second wave feminism and the sexual revolution in the United States, occasionally show women with their breasts visible through their garments. Such images fuel the rationale of those who criticize Winogrand’s photos, viewing them as intentionally exploitative. 

I personally believe that the images are innocent, authentic demonstrations of the 1960s-70s and the public nature of women at the time, and find the images still to be relevant, relatable, and admirable. 
I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring Garry Winogrand’s photographs from this series, and will always cherish the way that New York made me feel the first time I saw it. Such images of women just being themselves is not something I often see in the museum setting, and has been very refreshing to study. Winogrand’s photography provides a fresh, genuine, joyous interpretation of women that I personally relate to.

This blog post was written by Art, Design & Architecture Museum Intern Chloe Babcock, who interned with the Museum’s Registrar. Click to learn more about the AD&A Museum Internship Program: https://museum.ucsb.edu/learn/internship.

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