When asked why he made pictures, the photographer Garry Winogrand had a trifecta of answers at the ready: “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs”; “to get outside of myself”; “for my own education.” These were not meant to deflect the question but rather to say that photography was so profoundly important to Winogrand, that the vocation of photographer was so inextricably linked to Winogrand’s very being, that he had difficulty articulating a verbal response, preferring to let his work speak on his behalf.

Born in the Bronx in 1928, Winogrand spawned work that reads like an inventory of American iconography: the visual cacophony of Midtown Manhattan; the white sands of New Mexico; state fairs and stadiums; zoos; cars; cowboys; ketchup—a richly hued spectrum of postwar American life.

Winogrand’s love of freedom and his penchant for the commonplace meant he eschewed the rigors of traditional photojournalism and the cause-laden imagery of his predecessors—Dorothea Lange’s work for the Farm Security Administration; Lewis Hine’s documentation of child labor; Gordon Parks’s relentless representation of the social injustices of the Black community—for what would be deemed the “snapshot aesthetic.” When his pictures came to prominence, in the 60s, some were perplexed by their vision, yet for others these slice-of-life images showed the path forward for the photographic medium.

Photography changed dramatically during Winogrand’s lifetime. Color film—invented in the 1930s but relegated, by both cost and taste, to what was considered lowly commercial work—gained newfound importance when John Szarkowski, director of photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, gave a solo show of color works to a then unknown photographer named William Eggleston.

Szarkowski staged another revelatory exhibition when, in 1967, he hung the group show “New Documents,” featuring the work of Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus—an exhibition that transformed photography with its casual, happenstance approach to picture-making. This style of imagery and the acceptance of color pictures would become the mainstay in photography, and, in 1977, Szarkowski hailed Winogrand as the “central photographer of his generation.”

But the world, too, was changing—the pill had been invented; nuclear war narrowly averted; Kennedy was assassinated—and Winogrand was there to document it all, to witness the seismic shift firsthand, crossing the country courtesy of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Despite the era’s inherent anxieties, Winogrand’s America is not imbued with Edward Hopper’s singular melancholy or the poetic brooding of Robert Frank, but instead with humor and joy. “The world isn’t tidy; it’s a mess. I don’t try to make it neat,” Winogrand said of America and all of its paradoxes—the beauty and brutality; the hope and anxiety; the unsettling oddities of a country at its apex that Winogrand stripped of its American Dream veneer.

In 1984, just shy of his 56th birthday, Winogrand was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died six weeks later, leaving his prodigious output in disarray, with more than 6,500 rolls of film that had either not been processed or not been proofed, including 45,000 little-seen color slides. Winogrand kept no diary, wrote remarkably few letters or artist statements, and, near the end of his life, suggested that it would fall to the editors and the viewers of his pictures to complete the works in their own way. The new book Winogrand Color, with 150 color plates, most never seen before, adds refreshing newness to this ongoing collaboration.

Tracy Doyle is a New York-based creative director who has worked with brands such as Tom Ford, Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., and MaxMara. Previously, she was a photo editor at LIFE and Interview magazines

Garry Winogrand: Winogrand Color will be published on January 9 by Twin Palms