DPP Home Profiles Dan Winters: Master Of The Timeless Portraits

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dan Winters: Master Of The Timeless Portraits

Top editorial photographer Dan Winters takes revealing pictures of the most famous faces in a way that’s simple, quiet and one-of-a-kind

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There’s a distinct look to a Dan Winters portrait, and that has made him one of the most sought-after editorial photographers working today. While his work with actors, musicians and other notable figures gets most of the attention, he’s also well known for his scientific and photojournalistic work. Winters says he likes working with artists because there’s a shared respect for artistic expression that makes his job easier. Above: Actress Helen Mirren

Don’t ask Dan Winters about his photographic style. In fact, he takes issue with the word style because, to him, a stylistic approach is one that has more to do with materials and technique than it does with seeing a subject and interpreting it. He works to create images that transcend all personal style, instead bringing what he calls an artistic sensibility or way of thinking to his photography.

Actor Brad Pitt
Take a snapshot of his complete body of work, and it’s clear that this is someone with a lot of different interests, including a deep appreciation for American history and culture. However, he has become known for his definitive and timeless portraits of Hollywood A-listers, rock stars, athletes and everyday people.

His thoughtful images are quiet, sometimes unsettling and always distinctive. First, there’s a certain off-center stare that occupies his subjects’ faces. Then there’s the minimalist backdrop and lighting.

Most often, the images are stripped of any styling. The colors are fairly subdued. So whether it’s a portrait of Brad Pitt or an anonymous high-school football player, President Barack Obama or a shopkeeper in India, Winters has honed his unique sensibility in a way that is instantly recognizable.

“The idea is that I can go into any kind of situation and make a picture and have it not be dependent on technique,” he explains. “I feel like I get hired at times for my opinion on things.”

Winters’ father
Winters treats each face, no matter how famous, the same—as a three-dimensional object that reflects light. He’s a lighting perfectionist. A minimalist when it comes to fixtures, he never stops tweaking. Light is used to enhance what he’s trying to say without ever calling attention to itself. He’s also in complete control, from figuring out how the shoot will go, to taking the picture, processing the film and making the final print.

Since he’s often shooting people who are well known and appear frequently in many kinds of media, his goal is to create a likeness of the individual that’s augmented by his own artistic vision. It’s an approach that has served him well, as his portraits repeatedly grace the pages of magazines such as Esquire, GQ, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, Rolling Stone, LIFE, Newsweek, Time and many more. He finds working with actors and artists especially rewarding because there’s a shared respect for artistic expression.

Winters started out as a newspaper photographer at the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle in Ventura County, Calif. He credits his early photojournalism work with helping him to really understand the importance of the still image. After winning several local awards for his work, he moved to New York City, where magazine assignments came quickly. Portraiture was a natural fit for him because of his editorial background, and it also happened to be where there was a lot of work.


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