A Note to Garry Winogrand

Dear Garry,

I know you’re dead and I hate to bother you. I do. But I have to tell you something. Tonight, I stupidly went to the dive bar across the street. It’s January first. I figured I’d have one or two more drinks. So I sit down and I start having a really great and fun conversation with this guy at the bar — he has a party hat on his head. We really hit it off. And the bar tender says to me, “I won’t serve you.”

Me and the guy and the bar are ready to ask, “Why?”

And I do.

“You were photographing customers and staff.”

That’s why I’m bothering you, Garry.

Did this ever happen to you? It must have.\

Here’s the pictures I took the last time I was there.

I know. Nothing special, right. But it was almost exactly three years ago that I watched the movie about you, All Things Are Photographable.

My heart is kind of hurting right now, Garry. I’m trying to write fiction. I’m learning as I go. I have this deep feeling like I suck at that. And that I suck at most things. But I’m making the effort. I see creativity as a redemptive effort. God already knows that I’m “saved;” but I still have to do something while I’m here.

And I was inspired by that film about you and your work. So I started taking pictures of people. Lots of pictures.

People are weird about that now. If I was holding up my Pentax K1000 and I said I was a photographer maybe people would be OK.

But I’m not a photographer, and I’m not a writer, and I’m feeling like I should just quit. I am really tired. I am exhausted. I’ve had enough.

And I know you’ve got better things to do where you are. I hope you’re palling around with Kertesz, and Weegee, and maybe cooking up something with Jacque Tati. But I thought maybe you could take a minute to comfort me. You are one of my angels.

Something from the movie stuck with me. One of the people said you held the camera in such a way that nobody knew if you were really taking a picture.

You took lots of pictures.

This is one that has changed my life.

When I saw that picture in 2018, I started writing fiction deliberately. I realized I wasn’t mad at Albuquerque anymore. My grudge was gone. I could see something in that picture. I saw myself. It freed me.

Garry, I wish you could go with me into the bar. Like we could go back. And you’d explain. But it’s so different now. We have phones with cameras.

I have to tell you, I don’t see a future. As I said, I’m no artist, and I am definitely not a photographer or a writer. So what should I do?

Maybe back in the day, you and I would have gone in there, and you’d have taken your Leica or whatever, and they’d have been fine. I don’t know. Maybe you’d deck the bartender for me and we’d wander around looking for another drink in the snow and then just go home and fall asleep.

I take pictures because you told me to. Now it’s getting me into trouble. Help me, Garry. Or not. You tell me. If I see something, and it’s beautiful, shouldn’t I just leave it. Why take a picture? Why write about it if nobody reads it. Why urge people or do anything. Why not just shuffle along, looking at my phone, and feel outraged? Tell me. Because taking pictures has made me happy. Should I stop?


I feel like avenues of relief from my pain are being blocked off. Maybe that means I need to just feel the pain. But stop taking pictures? Stop writing? Garry, you have to tell me what to do.

I don’t hear you saying, “stop writing and stop taking pictures.”

Help me out. I am lost. Say something. What am I missing?

Roger —