Dan Winters is not just an artist with talent and passion, but a photographer with range. Photos of celebrities, politicians, families, friends in individual portraits or photo essays for magazines, newspaper – he seems to have covered it all. He’s had regular assignments for magazines such as Esquire, GQ, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, New York, Wired, Fortune, Discover, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Life, Newsweek, Time, and many other national and international publications. His clients include Nike, Microsoft, IBM, LG, ABC, Warner Brothers, Paramount, DreamWorks, Columbia TriStar and Twentieth Century Fox. He has been recognized time and time again by the industry and even awarded the prestigious Alfred Eisenstadt Award for Magazine Photography. And so, as he spoke to the packed audience in the Manhattan loft studio, he had a range of stories to tell.
He told tales of the rich and famous that made the audience laugh: Christopher Walken’s mischief, Tupac surprisingly requesting to listen to the Counting Crows, Willie Nelson requesting Tupac. The photographs on display were equally amusing: a photograph of Will Ferrell in a white latex suit with two antennas on a headpiece meant to be a “dog translation device” in a Wire issue showcasing the future we were promised but never given. Winters is proud of his ability to take funny shots and convey humor across both pages and screens.
He showed photographs of familiar faces in bizarre scenarios – Helen Mirren and Tom Hanks to name drop a few. Winters builds worlds for his subjects to inhabit, often building props himself, and using light to paint these faces we’ve seen in so many settings in yet another new, unique, and special moment. This ability to create and capture the moment was seen in his Ryan Gosling portrait for a Blade Runner 2049 promo. A self-proclaimed sci-fi fan, Winters wanted a “funky old dusty science museum in Prague feel, whatever that meant” and transformed that spark into a set that is mysterious and eye-catching.. He’s a man with a plan, a vision, and the power to execute it. That power is part talent, part passion, and part motivation.
Winters shared the story of working with the famous Fred Rogers, who he photographed in a classic thick red warm sweater. The image conveys the feeling of home and acceptance, and paralleled the experience Winters had shooting. Everyone he spoke to could only speak highly of Fred, and even after the shoot, Winters came home home to a voicemail from Mr. Rogers himself hoping he’d made it back safely. It’s these connections that drive his passion for portraits and propel him to ask his photography motto “Why?” Why did they do it this way? Why did they choose this? Why? It’s the culmination of a thought process that begins with an emotional reaction to an image that then asks the question how, and lands on the why. And maybe nothing emphasizes Dan Winters’ “why” more than the pictures he says he took for himself, catching the authentic expressions between poses, faces of family and friends that show their true inner self. It’s the contrast of the people he loves so well with a side of them he’ll never truly know.
In another breath, he is showing photos of politicians. Images of Obama in 2008 and 2016 side by side speak volumes of the toll of being president, but Winters said it is a series that reminds him to be thankful and grateful for the opportunities he has encountered, the people he has met, and the connections he’s made. On the other side of the political spectrum is a photo of George W. Bush that Winters was admittedly reluctant to take; in fact, it was his wife who convinced him that he needed to see Bush the younger as a human being. And that’s the common thread through Dan Winters photographs – the remarkable authenticity of humanity in our societies, cultures, creations, emotions, norms, and rituals. It’s seen in his photo essays, whether they are about golf, the space shuttle program, or Ray the World War II veteran who was remarkable not for any war deeds but simply in his existence, just like anyone else. Winters shadowed him for days, following and photographing his schedule. WInters was able to capture the intimacy in the routine – the look of exhaustion just before bed, or the faithful prayer before a meal.
One of the last stories Winters shared, an act which he considers therapeutic, was the chronicle of a close friend’s cancer journey. The photos are a raw and constant acknowledgement of his victimization by this disease. They are the documented proof of what was happening to him, from shaving his head to accepting the eventuality that he would come to pass.
Regardless of topic, focus, or the world he builds around his subject, Dan Winters finds the emotion, the authenticy, the humanity. The moments. Fear. Fascination, Grandeur. Hope. He has so much to share, so many stories, ideas and connections – a true range.
“And that’s all I’ve got,” Dan Winters says in conclusion. As if he hadn’t captured so much of the world, as if promising of more to come.