“reFramed” is a feature showcasing fine art photography and vision-forward photojournalism. It is curated by Los Angeles Times staff photographer Barbara Davidson. twitter@photospice
Dan Winters began his career in photography as a photojournalist in Ventura County. After winning several regional awards for his work he moved to New York City and began working as an editorial photographer. Winters is known for the broad range of subject matter that he is able to interpret. He is widely recognized for his unique celebrity portraiture, scientific photography, drawings, collages and photojournalistic work. Winters has been the recipient of more than 100 national and international awards from organizations including the Society of Publication Designers, the Art Directors Club of New York, Communication Arts, and American Photography. He received a World Press Photo Award in 2003. In 1998 he was awarded the Alfred Eisenstadt Award for magazine photography. He was honored by Kodak in 2003 as a photo “icon” in its biographical “legends” series.
Winters has had four solo exhibitions of his work in galleries in New York and Los Angeles. In 1999, his first book, “Dan Winters Photographs,” was published in conjunction with his first solo exhibition held at the Saba gallery in New York. In 2009, a book of his magazine photography entitled “Dan Winters, Periodical Photographs” was published by Aperture. His third book, “Last Launch” was published in 2012 by the University of Texas Press.
Winters’ photographs are displayed in many private and public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas Austin, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University in San Marcos. Winters lives with his wife Kathryn in Austin, Los Angeles and Savannah, Ga.
Q: You began your photography career as a photojournalist in Ventura County, then hightailed it to New York City for the bright lights of the magazine world. What was the transition like both professionally and personally?
A: My first shooting job was for the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle. It was the best job I ever had. I had a ’62 Volkswagen Bug, a scanner and two cameras hanging around my neck. It was so liberating. I lived in the darkroom. The darkroom for me is one of the sacred places and has been a place of great solace for me over the years. I did a lot of experimentation with lighting. I was really inspired by what was going on in magazines at the time. While at the paper I started to handle assignments and photo essays with magazines in mind. The staff at the paper were very supportive of my experimentation. I was accepted into the first Eddie Adams workshop where I met Greg Heisler. I showed him some of my work and he told me to quit my job and move to New York. I lived there three weeks later. I didn’t really even flinch. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Greg introduced me to Chris Callis, who was doing some amazing lighting work at the time. Really innovative. I worked with Chris for a year. It was an incredible, life-changing experience.
Really, it was an apprenticeship. Chris structured the job so that I would be exposed to all aspects of the business. I left feeling that I had a good handle as to the workflow of a working freelancer. Chris did a lot of large productions at that time. Being on set and being exposed to the complexities of a multifaceted shoot really gave me an understanding of set dynamics and working under pressure. During my time with Chris I was shooting as often as I could. I have a passion for the tradition of street photography. Winogrand, Friedlander, Metzker, Frank and Callahan, to name a few, were and to this day are my heroes. New York provided me with many good opportunities. I had a darkroom in my bedroom. I slept on a futon and rolled it up every morning so I could work and shoot in my small apartment. I had been working on my portfolio for that entire year. I had a box made by a bookbinder. Put a stack of loose prints in it and started to drop it at magazines. I got hired by the first magazine that I dropped it with. It was a very magical time for me. I lived in the West Village and was working in both L.A. and New York. I started to build up a client base. It was on an assignment for Vanity Fair in Los Angeles that I met my wife of 20 years, Kathryn. After commuting and living in two places. I ended up moving to L.A. full-time. I opened a studio in Hollywood.
Q: When you photograph a celebrity or world leader, do you have an idea of what you want before the shoot, or do you improvise on the spot?
A: It depends on the situation. Oftentimes shoot concepts are discussed beforehand with the magazine and subject. Other times I make things up as I go. Even when a shoot concept is fleshed out in advance I am always trying to be aware of what opportunities the situation presents. It is good to have a plan “A” but oftentimes plan “B” can present itself and be infinitely better than a preconceived idea. It’s important to always be looking.
Q: Is there anyone you would like to photograph but haven’t had the opportunity to do so? If so, whom and why?
A: No one comes to mind. I just take them as they come. My dear friend Brett, who I have known for years and have not made a portrait of yet, I’ve wanted to for a long time. We recently decided that over Christmas we would try and make it happen.
Q: You were given special access to document the final launches of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour, and your newest book, “Last Launch,” is a photographic tribute to America’s space shuttle program. How did you record the launches from a technical standpoint, and what did it mean to you to document the end of an era in space travel?
A: It was important to me to make these pictures. I have a great love of science and am one of the seeming minority that feels that asking the “big questions” with no expected answer or outcome is one of man’s greatest expressions of passion.
I went through channels with NASA. The bureaucracy is very difficult to deal with. I’ve become pretty good at forcing my will. As the project took shape and the body of work grew I was able to get access that was privileged but not exclusive. My access had more to do with tenacity than anything else.
The actual launch images were made partially by me manually and partially by sound-triggered cameras that were placed around the pad the day prior to the launch. I used up to 11 cameras per launch. Each composed to yield one or so images.
Q: Your portraits of your son, father, and friends are so beautiful and intimate. How do you approach your personal photography versus your professional?
A: Intellectually my approach is really no different. It is my relationship to the subjects in many cases that differs. Many of them are loved ones. This fact adds a depth to the pictures which I believe manifests itself in the final image.
I do use different materials than I use for most of my assignment work. Materials are such an important part of our work. We really are manufacturer-dependent. I look at the aesthetic outcome of an image to be partially informed by the materials used to create it. Most of the work that I do for myself is medium format and 35mm black and white. I shoot with available light. Using these materials to a degree determines what the image looks like. I love the warmth of these materials and find that they work well with my sensibility. They are simple and unobtrusive.
Q: You are known for such a wide range of photography — celebrity portraits, scientific photography, photo illustrations — and even your drawings. Is there anything you haven’t achieved creatively that you would still like too?
A: I have been working on painting, which I find very challenging.
Q: I lived in Texas for seven years and am a huge lover of barbecue. I hear you know where the three greatest barbecue joints in the world are … DO TELL!
A: Smitty’s Market in Lockhart and City Market in Lulling are my two favorites. They are both transcendent. A true aficionado does not use barbecue sauce. It is all about the meat. Using barbecue sauce on this meat would be like drowning high-quality sushi with soy sauce.