Saturday, November 2, 2013


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Dan Winters

Where do I even begin? I guess I'll start by saying that I learned about Dan Winters while I was in college. We had an entire class on his portrait of Tom Hanks. To be perfectly honest, at the time I wasn't sure what kind of photographer I wanted to be yet. Dan's work definitely helped push my own style into the direction that it has ended up and I'm very grateful for that. The images he makes tend to stay with you a long time and that's the first thing I noticed about Dan's work. He's created a style, an entire world really that is so recognizable and iconic in itself. These are the things I learned by looking at his images. It's an extreme honor to be able to get some insight into Dan Winter's brain. Enjoy. 


Where did some of your first photographic influences come from? 
In high school we had several volumes in the darkroom. I was particularly taken by the work of Alfred Steiglitz. He remains among my favorite practitioners. Later, I became aware of Bresson and a myriad of others. Callahan and Fred Sommer continue to amaze me. Their singular vision is astounding. Frank, Winogrand, Eggleston and Arbus. Evans is a huge influence. I have always been drawn to street photography. It is very democratic and requires no specific access. Irving Penn is also a hero of mine. 

How were your parents involved with your artistic endeavors early on? 
My mother is very artistic. Both of my parents supported any enterprise that I showed interest in. They fostered wonder  - which I believe is at the core of creativity. 

What are your parents professions and what kind of childhood did you have? 
My mother was a homemaker and my father was a welder. Art was a part of my life as far back as I could remember. 

What crowd did you fall into in high school? 
I went to a very small high school in a very rural area. I had known many of my classmates since nursery school. I got along with most people. I was interested in entomology, filmmaking, photography, racing BMX, and playing baseball. 

You attended the Ludwig school in Munich, which is a renowned and famous school for film and photography in Germany. It's known for a very commercial style, which is reflected strongly in your work. What did you study there? 
I was accepted into the documentary film department. I enjoyed my time in Munich. To be honest, I wasn't a very diligent student. I spent an enormous amount of time photographing the city and this is principally where my love and practice of street photography blossomed. 

I really enjoy looking at the series of your friends and neighbors, can you tell me more about that series? 
When I am shooting for myself, I usually like to strip things down to the basics. Black and white film, shutter speed, aperture, exposure, photo 101. Those photographs reflect the most basic approach. Simplicity and removing variables leaves you with only your sensibility and voice. 

What work do you feel is most yourself? 
All of my work holds a place in my heart. Much of the assignment work that I do is commissioned for a specific purpose. The work I make for the love of photography is my favorite work. Portraits of friends and family, shuttle photographs, street work etc. 

How are you bridging the gap between commercial and personal work?
I have made a practice of creating many different bodies of work simultaneously. This allows me to create work organically. A body of work may take years to mature. Working on several at any given time allows me to switch from one to the other. 

What's your philosophy on making portraits? 
I just like to make portraits that affect me. I am pleased when others respond favorably. 

What is your philosophy on light? 
My lighting is very simple. I think the trick to lighting is awareness and intent. 

Could you share with us one of your favorite images from your personal family photo albums that you remember? 
I have most of the photographs that were made of myself and my family as a boy. I have them archived in acid free materials. There are many important images to me. A specific image is a photograph of the Apollo 11 launch that my dad attempted to make off of our television as the event occurred. He used a flash and as a result there is no broadcasted images on the screen. It is simply a photograph of our television set. I remember my disappointment when I first saw the flawed image but it has come to mean a great deal to me with time. 

What is one of your favorite photography quotes? 
Callahan said it best: "I take the kinds of pictures that I like to look at." 

How have other mediums influenced your work? 
I think our process is informed through all of our life experiences and am therefore grateful that I have actively tried to expose myself to as much life experience as possible which would include viewing other forms of visual art but more importantly experiencing all that life apart from art has to offer. 

What image or set of images that you've taken do you feel is your favorite to look at and why? 
I love my photographs that I have made of my son Dylan because he is my proudest achievement. 

What kinds of things are you looking for in other photographer's work? 
I try to feel the picture. Because I also love process I may dissect it technically, but the great work is deceptively simple. 

Favorite portrait session? 
Mr. Rogers. He was one of the kindest individuals I have known. 

Do you think knowing the inside of a darkroom gives today's photographer an advantage in the digital world? 
Yes, in some ways it has helped me to communicate to my retouchers but in the end the final product can be achieved in many ways. People who do not have a knowledge of the darkroom are not working at a deficit but they are missing a magical world. 

Do you have a favorite quote about lighting? 
Eugene Smith said of lighting: "Available light is any light that's available at the time." I've always loved that quote. 

What advice would you give about editing your own work? 
The best way to see is to pay close attention to the way you are reacting to the world around you. Becoming aware is a life's work. 

What would you say is the most difficult aspect about the profession today as opposed to 20 years ago? 
20 years ago if you threw a rock, you wouldn't hit a photographer. 

Key to success? 
Work hard. Be aware. Be true to your motives. 

What is one of the most important lessons you learned from shooting for major publications like The New York Times? 
Consistency is everything. 

What did you learn from assisting Chris Callis years back? 
I learned a lot from Chris. I had been a photographer for several years when I started with him. I had never been on a big involved shoot. I learned that there was no one way to make a career. The best advice I could give is do what feels right but really be honest with yourself. If you are not, it will only hurt you. 

Have you ever had an unsatisfied client? 
It has happened. Sometimes things don't work and sometimes people have different expectations. Bad shoot days suck. You have to keep pressing on. 

What's one of the biggest misconceptions about being a well known photographer from your point of view? 
That it becomes easier. 

What kinds of things can photographers do to promote themselves more? 
Your best promotion is consistently doing the best work you can. The people that hire you are entrusting you with their money, so it's important to honor that. 

I'm curious about how you set your prices in the beginning. How has that changed over time? 
I don't remember when the tables turned. The rates when I began were set and that's what I worked for. As time passed people offered me more money, which was great. We have over time set our own rates in many cases. It is expensive to maintain a business that can respond consistently at moments notice. People count on our ability to put shoots together quickly and professionally. I have a staff and it costs a lot to have this type of infrastructure. 

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers? 
Keep shooting and be honest with yourself. Consider your motivations. Try to be as clear as possible with yourself as to the reasons you are making photographs. 

What are your top 3 records to spin? 
Anything by Led Zeppelin, Towns Van Zandt, or Brian Eno. 

Check out more of Dan's work here:

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