Camera and heart in hand, the late Garry Winogrand admired women in public places.
In his 1975 "Women Are Beautiful" portfolio, exhibited at UC Santa Barbara's University Art Museum (through Aug. 3), he caught them swinging through the streets of Manhattan, lounging in parks and gossiping on bus benches.
Winogrand watched their hair blow in the wind, their feet curl up with fatigue, their bodies flaunt sexuality. And, as these pictures tell it, the renowned photographer loved every minute of it.
He obviously delighted in the occasional zaftig exhibitionist, a blond waif who hikes up her short skirt to go bicycling and a curvaceous skinny-dipper, but he got an equally big charge out of less provocative women.
The aspect that most interested Winogrand, he said, was "their energies" and that's exactly what he captured. The women's beauty usually is not in their faces but in their movement and the way they fit into the rhythm of a city.
Among the 85 black-and-white images exhibited are women standing in line, cooling themselves in a fountain and shopping as if their lives depended on it. About the only thing they don't do is pose or stand on a pedestal.
The feeling that none of these women knew they were being photographed is reinforced by a posted statement saying that Winogrand didn't know his subjects. He simply paid them a compliment by finding them fascinating.
Winogrand's characteristic style is that of a casual whirlwind. You can almost feel him sweeping through a city or a park, extracting a face from a crowd and accentuating the action by twisting his camera to skew a horizon. He has been accused of taking amateur-style snapshots, but no one seriously looking at these pictures could get away with that assessment. You see what he wants you to see: visual relationships, humorous contortions, the embarrassment and the exhilaration of being human.
"I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed," he once said, in an often-quoted statement. But there's more to it than that. Winogrand was an ace at grabbing and preserving the odd, telling moment: a woman admiring a policeman's horse as the lawman surveys her body; a miniskirted female pausing near a store window that displays her now-dated style of clothing; a pair of friends displaying themselves in a cafe window.
In "Women Are Beautiful" he seemed to photograph to show his affection. His subjects aren't beauties in the fashionable sense, but his characteristic brashness has softened into a bear hug.
When Winogrand died in 1982, America lost a spirited observer of its social landscape. The University Art Museum now owns an important piece of his action in this portfolio, recently donated to the institution by New York collectors Justin and Vivian Ebersman.