Creativity, technology, and how Garry Winogrand changed my thinking about all of it

One of the catch phrases that I’ve long associated with Artsology is “open your mind to new ideas.” It started with my high school band teacher organizing a jazz band, and taking a bunch of kids who listened to classic rock and teaching them to appreciate the different music (and mindset) of jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, among others. That experience for me is part of the “origin story” of Artsology, where I’ve wanted to apply the same idea of sharing my interest in the arts to hopefully reach kids (of all ages, and even adults) and utilize the creative thinking of artists to open our minds to new ideas.

With that in mind, I’ll continue my back story explanation of this post by going back to my first job out of college, working at an art gallery in NYC that specialized in fine art photography. One of the artists represented at the gallery was the estate of Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), who was an American street photographer, known for his ability to capture everyday life (and the social issues that came along with it) in the United States in the mid-late 20th century. Just the idea of “street photography” was new to me at that time (in the early 1990s), as a graduated art history major, I thought of art as being something that painters and sculptors made in their studios, and here’s a guy who wandered the streets of NYC taking photographs of things he saw, and it was the way he saw these things and how he captured them on film that made it into art. There’s an interesting quote from Winogrand in which he states: “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” One important key to appreciating his work is that he didn’t ask people to pose for the shots, and most of these everyday scenes were captured by chance, so it’s how he saw and captured these random moments that reflected his vision, how he saw things that became his art.

I could go on about the work and career of Garry Winogrand, but perhaps I’ll leave this as a starting point for further exploration if this artist is unfamiliar to you. I’d love to share some Winogrand images here, but they all have restricted reproduction rights, so check some out via this link.

One of the “legends” about Garry Winogrand that resonated with me and had stuck with me over the years was the idea that at the time of his death, he left behind countless rolls of undeveloped 35mm film, and the number that stuck in my head for so long was that he had 100,000 images that he himself (or curators, art dealers, and art historians) had not yet seen developed or printed when he passed away in 1984. He was so busy taking photographs and making new art every single day that he couldn’t even keep up with looking at what he had made, and I found that concept both inspiring and fascinating.

But as I’m researching to verify my facts for this blog post, it seems that this number of 100,000 images that I’ve carried around in my mind for so long is actually an understatement: according to an article in the Washington Post, Winogrand died leaving behind 2,500 undeveloped rolls of 36-exposure 35mm film, had 6,500 rolls of film where the negatives had been developed but not contact-printed, as well as 300 apparently untouched, unedited 35mm contact sheets. If you do the math, that’s well over 300,000 pictures – what might be considered any other photographer’s life-long work – that Winogrand took but never even saw. Just for some perspective, Picasso is considered a very prolific artist, and he made about 50,000 artworks during his lifetime, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, and ceramics. Granted, pressing the button on a camera is different than painting, drawing and sculpting, but leaving behind 300,000 unseen images is still mind-numbing.

Anyway, all these years, I carried around the idea of 100,000 photographs as a mythical number. Now let’s fast-forward to this week, as I’m dealing with an old iMac computer and all of the photographs that I’ve taken over the years, often with a subconscious thought that I was in pursuit of Winogrand-level productivity. There’s going to be a lot of tech specs here as I proceed in my explanation of this blog post title, but keep in mind that it comes back to my pursuit of photography, creativity, and my own art.

photos after using Waterlogue app
My own photos of St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue (NYC) and the New Mexico sky, after using the iOS Waterlogue App. Images are © Artsology.

My current computer is a 27″ iMac which I bought sometime in 2014, so it’s about 8 years old. My first iMac was purchased in 2008, and all of the photographs on that computer were backed up and moved over to the 2nd and current iMac, which I think might be nearing the end of its working life. It has a 3TB “fusion drive,” which means that it is a combination of “flash storage” and a hard drive which has moving parts and a spinning disk which, after years of use, is eventually going to break down and crash. Thankfully, I’ve been backing up my iMac using Time Machine on an external hard drive, and I feel good knowing I’ve got everything saved in case my iMac does die on me.

But as I’ve been shopping for new iMacs, it seems they have discontinued the 27″ model and most of the new 24″ models only have 256 GB of storage space, although one can upgrade to 512 GB or even 1TB for a lot more money. But what am I supposed to do with my current 3 TB hard drive? Getting a new Mac with enough storage space for what I already have plus have room for growth seems unattainable, or at least ridiculously expensive if I get a customized drive of a larger size. As I’ve been researching this, my own collection of digital photographs is very important to me, and I just realized yesterday that I’ve surpassed that “mythical” Winogrand number of 100,000 photographs that was stuck in my head for so long. I currently have 176,000 digital photographs taking up over 600 GB of hard drive space, so what am I going to do with all of that in regards to what Apple is offering in new computers?

street photography and my art in progress
Examples of my own street photography (left) and the documentation of a painting-in-progress. Images are © Artsology.

I’m going to assume that younger people have a completely different understanding or perspective on technology than what I have (as a guy in his 50s), but my thinking was always that a computer – the actual machine sitting in front of me – was the digital storage unit, the digital “photo album” for all of my own street photography, photos taken at art galleries, museums, and art fairs, family photos, as well as photos of my own paintings and drawings. So if my “life’s work” in digital formats is on that 3TB hard drive, then what am I going to do if newer computers don’t offer that amount of space?

Okay, I know there’s an obvious answer – the cloud – and I’ve been using Dropbox for years, and have countless files backed up that I readily access on my laptop and phone in addition to my iMac desktop. But for some reason, the way all of my digital photographs are stored and organized within the Photos app on the iMac, it seemed to keep them tied to the physical machine sitting on my desk. Why? Because it seems Apple wants to make sure I keep using Apple products, so those 176,000 photos get backed up to something called the “Photos Library.photoslibrary,’ which – rather than being a typical folder where one sees the individual photo files, it’s a database that splits everything into sections such as data, photo cache, masks, plugins, previews, xml files, and so much more.

At this point, I realized that while I safely had 176,000 photos backed up, getting them to Dropbox for future access would be problematic since I would still need enough hard drive space on a new computer to import this massive Apple Photos Library database and all of its various parts. I spent a good part of the day yesterday looking for ways to get around this, and finally found a solution. If one right-clicks on the “.photolibrary” folder, one can access something called “Show Package Contents” and then find everything in simple .jpg formats, ordered chronologically, in a folder called “Masters.” If I move my “masters” over to Dropbox, I can save 176,000 photos independently of the Apple Photo App.

GoPro panorama of the New Mexico desert
My panoramic photo of the New Mexico desert on the High Road to Taos. Image is © Artsology.

This is where I realized that my own mind had been “opened to new ideas” about technology in my pursuit of preserving my own Winogrand-esque collection of photographs. It would seem to extend beyond photographs, to everything on my computer. Once I freed my photographs from the Apple photo library database, it changed my thinking about buying a new computer. Rather than thinking of a computer as the physical storage for my creativity, let it all stay in the cloud and free it from any one device. In reality, I’ve already been doing this for years with all of my web design work files and personal documents, which have long been neatly organized and backed up in Dropbox folders. But now that I can also move my 176,000 photos to Dropbox, freed from the Apple Photo App database – why even worry about backing up a computer and moving it to a new computer? Why even worry about what’s on my hard drive? As long as everything gets saved in the cloud, who cares about the machine in front of me? Rather than a computer being a “storage unit,” why not just think of it as a facilitator to get to all of my content that is collected independent of my various devices?

I’m sure there’s countless people out there who will say “duh, the cloud has offered this for years,” but I still felt tied to hard drives in specific computers mainly because of my dependence upon the Apple Photo Library, as well as my massive collection of music saved in iTunes (most of which can be found streaming in Spotify, probably making the saving of those digital files obsolete). Maybe this post will only be enlightening to people of my age who were also stuck on the mindset of the computer in front of you as the actual storage location of all that you create and use. It almost seems like Apple’s decision to stop make huge hard drives for a population with ever-growing digital content is only forcing people like me to strip the association between their physical computers and their digital content. I still like Apple products, but if the content I create on my Apple products all goes to Dropbox (rather than iCloud or a hard drive), then I’m really quite free to use anything as long as it gets me to my files. It’s kind of liberating to think I can buy a new computer and keep it fresh and empty and not worry about dragging over several computers’ worth of backups. It’s liberating to think that rather than worry about the lifespan of my current computer, or my next computer, to just think of them as tools that connect me to what I’ve created which exists someplace else.

At the same time, this might suggest that I have to put complete trust in Dropbox, and I still run the risk of losing everything if something happens to them. But I’m sure I will find ways to back all of that up as well, perhaps on an external hard drive or a second cloud service. I’m just relieved to be free of the concern about my current iMac crashing and losing my Winogrand-sized collection of digital images. If anyone would like to share their thoughts on any of this, please do so in the comments section below.

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2 thoughts on “Creativity, technology, and how Garry Winogrand changed my thinking about all of it

  1. Granted, pressing the button on a camera is different than painting, drawing and sculpting, but leaving behind 300,000 unseen images is still mind-numbing.

    – From a hidden Picasso nude to an unfinished Beethoven, AI uncovers lost art — and new challenges

    – The empty brain – Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer

  2. A couple of articles you might find interesting:

    From a hidden Picasso nude to an unfinished Beethoven, AI uncovers lost art — and new challenges – A recent recreation has drawn global attention and praise, but also landed the two students behind the AI project in potential legal trouble.

    The empty brain – Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer

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