Looking Through Garry Winnogrand’s book Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, initially, I thought it wasnt very good. Though it came via interlibrary loan at the same time as a couple of livestock catalogs, so maybe it was unfair to compare them. The live stock catalog photographs were slick, commercial, beautiful, and seductive, they made me want to buy the product and they were of a form, genuine;y vernacular even being commercial. The livestock in this book you can barely see, they are badly cropped, move too ing to a rodeo, the doctors, wranglers, clowns, medics, and support staff are an intergral part of the whole process–no one bucks a bronco or rides a bull without a coterie. The photographs that Winniograd are the photos of an outside, because he shows the assistants and in that representation punctures the mutually agreed upon mythologies (the best ones arquickly for the camera, aren’t the main point of the photo, or show up with the wrong side to the lens (if you were into sheep assholes this would be be book for you)

I was going to dismiss this as yet another act of cultural tourism, and not a very good one at that. The tourism charge seemed really apt for several reasons– the photos were commissioned by the U of Texas at Austin, and a museum there and because of Winnogrand’s status as a art world insider (the several NY:MoMA shows, the two Guggenheim grants, the NEA funding, and other grants and gifts).

But the photos kept sticking in my head–the work is very much part of the anti-aesthetic of the photogs that arrived in the 70s, and has the grit/dirt of Meatyard or Gednis, but most photos of the west, frankly most art of the west is empty, is about unpeopled vistas–and the photos here are of large crowds of people, dozens in all sorts of circumstances, in parades, judging, in the stands of rodeo, at parties after the stock sold well–having a peopled west, and having that shot like one would shoot new york cocktail or LA dance clubs has a certain egalitarian power…(this is strongest in two pictures he took of the stands, each of them a crush of people in their Sears bought best, overwhelming two painted murals, of a cowboy doing his work on bare plains–the reality of spectacle and stadium, abutting the mythology of the unpopulated west in a really clever way)

Continuing on that theme, the 13 photos he has taken of actual rodeo events, are fascinating when juxtaposed to the stills that come from professional associations. The tradition in professional stills is to make the animal and man alone in the frame, a struggle between two elements (element in the primal sense of the word).The photos here are of everyone involved, and the action makes the camera goes squirelly. The best are the several where the clown is running the fuck out of the way of 1000 lbs of angry meat, while the cowboy remains foolishly on top.

Looking through the book was a useful argument against assuming value in only one source.