Schneider: I met Dan Winters about 13 or 14 years ago and was immediately impressed with how intelligent and funny he was. It was a little later that I found out how incredible of a photographer he is. We subsequently did a photo shoot together, and at this point, he’s shot the cover of both I’m Good Now and Burden Of Proof. He is recognized as one of the top photographers in the world, as both a commercial photographer as well as in the fine-art world, and has shot the most famous people on the planet. I asked him a few questions recently.
You’ve taken, I’m guessing, millions of photographs at this point. Is it something that you still enjoy in the way that you might have when you first started, or is it a job that you do, that you’re good at? How has the experience of taking photos changed for you over the years?
Dan Winters: Though it’s true, I have made millions of photographs in my lifetime, my profession thankfully remains my passion and is a driving force in my life. When I am actively working, whether on a large-scale Hollywood shoot or simply taking a walk with my camera, I am in what I would describe as a safe place, one in which I can navigate void for the most part of anxiety and fear. I do challenge myself in these situations, however my attempt to grow is not motivated by fear of failure. I find the challenges of growth to be a integral aspect of an artists evolution and over the years have been able to welcome these milestones, though this was not always the case.
In addition to your photography, you’re an incredible illustrator, and your collage work is really beautiful. Do find one more enjoyable than the other, or do all of these disciplines feed different parts of your creativity?
I began doing quite a bit of collage work in about 2005 in an attempt to offer myself a creative outlet while at home. At about the same time I began to pick up illustration assignments here and there. Illustration, whether drawing, collage or sculpture, has become a large part of the work that I produce both commercially and personally. This practice has grown into one of my great passions, and working at home in my studio upstairs is one of my pleasures in life. I recently completed my fifth book, Road To Seeing. While my other books were more conventional photo books by standard definition, by this I mean, minimal words and predominately images, Road To Seeing is predominately text. I wrote the 700-page book in the span of one-and-a-half years. This process became a new creative outlet for me, and I found it to be just as satisfying as making photographs, sculpture and works on paper.
Do you have a daily routine?
My daily routine is that I have no daily routine. Because the nature of my work involves travel and myriad logistics, my life seems to be in constant flux. I will say that I am quite a night owl, and left to my own devices, I would probably stay up until two or three and sleep until 10 or 11. I’m 52 now, and structure is something that I crave. As a young photographer, the excitement of travel was ever present; however, as my travel has exceeded several million miles, a cup of coffee at home in the morning now provides me with a great deal of bliss.
You’ve photographed some of the most remarkable people of our lifetime. Who was one of your favorite subjects, and why?
I have had the good fortune of working with some truly profound and gifted people. Portraiture is an important part of my repertoire, and this has allowed me to work with many luminaries. Although I have photographed all walks of life in my 30-plus-year career, I focus primarily on artists, writers, musicians, etc., as I have always felt the most comfortable around these types of individuals. While the list of my portrait subjects is varied and many of my sittings have had a lasting effect on me, I would say that my three days in Pittsburgh with Fred Rogers may have been the most special assignment of my career. Fred was among the most generous and kind persons that I have known. He was genuine beyond measure, and his inner peace seemed to allow the people who surrounded him, including myself, to feel special about themselves. This is a wonderful and rare character trait. Of course, we all have this ability innately; however, we seem to find it difficult to access on our own. At times we require another person to act as a mirror who enables us to see and feel our own beauty and worth.
You travel all over the world taking pictures. What’s one of the most memorable places you’ve visited?
Travel is a young man’s game, and as I said earlier, a day at home can be as exciting as a visit to the White House. One place that truly fascinates me however is India. I spent some time there in 1997 while on assignment for Detailsmagazine. It was an experience like none other and has left me wanting to return to do some further exploration. I have also been affected by the Normandy region of France. Sitting in the Cathedral at Bayeux and walking the D-Day invasion beaches is as profound an experience that I know.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened when you were working with some one?
I was on assignment for the New York Times Magazine outside of Boston in 1998. We had a very early call time, as our subject was leaving the country on that day, and he had a very solid out time. I was becoming acquainted with the subject and looking around his house for a place to shoot when I noticed my assistant out the window frantically flailing his arms and beckoning me to come outside. I excused myself and went out into the fun zero temperature of that dawn to be informed that the film was still in the climate controlled confines of his hotel room, an hour or so away from our present location. I collected myself and went back into the house to inform my sitter of the situation. His disappointment was visible though not aggressive. The situation was what it was, and it was glaringly obvious that he was not going to appear in the article and that was that. I am grateful that he was gracious about the ordeal. I too understood that it was merely a mistake and didn’t become the least bit angry. It was however a rookie mistake and a difficult one to explain to my editor at the magazine.
Do you have any New Years resolutions?
Only to try and be as kind and compassionate at I am able to. As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that we are not our actions and are not defined through our professions. Perhaps Tess Gallagher voiced it best when she wrote: “It’s not what we do in life that counts, it’s how we make people feel.”
Did you get anything good for Christmas?
I received some wonderful gifts this past Christmas. As I keep honeybees, my wife Kathryn gave me a first edition of The Beekeepers Bible circa 1889. My son Dylan gave me a pair of World War 1 British artillery binoculars as well as a German army issue brass matchbox. My assistant Travis gave me a beautiful Bonsai tree. I have had a love of the Bonsai practice since I was a boy. It is a wonderful art form. Perhaps the most special gift was one from my father, Larry Winters. He sent me a pair of his father’s gold cuff links. My grandfather, Bert Winters, was among the kindest persons that I have ever known and was a larger than life character in my childhood. Every year since my grandfather’s passing in 1994, my father gives me one object from my grandfather’s estate. I have over the years become the guardian of a host of objects, including his metal lunch box, his hard helmet, one of his flashlights and a large number of his tools. I am always eager to open these special gifts from my father as the physical connection that I feel through my grandfather’s objects resonates with me in a profound way.