Dan Winters: Ingenious Iconographer

by Jeff Vrabel

To call Dan Winters a "celebrity photographer" is to miss much of the story. It's understandable that people default to the celebrity hook when describing Winters' work. His style of portraiture is atmospheric, instantly recognizable and a touch other-wordly. There are shots of Tom Hanks, Tupac, Michael Jordan, Jack White, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leonardo DiCaprio, Heath Ledger, Christopher Walken, and a '50s-inspired version of Laura Dern, lost in some off-camera distance, treated to a desaturated color palette and feeling more permanent and mortal than most ephemeral celebrity photographs.

It doesn't take many glances for even untrained eyes to begin instinctively identifying a Winters portrait. But if labels make things easier, then Winters—who turns 50 in October and has kept a house on Tybee Island for 14 years—is also an aerospace photographer, an entomological photographer (with a lively interest in electron microscopes), a documenter of America, a chronicler of Texas gang life, a photographer of women in the military, a builder, illustrator and creator of collages and much more. His is a broad, stretching body of work that, he admits, is frustrating to see distilled down to that of a guy who only takes pictures of famous people.

"The truth is that if I had to do celebrity photos all the time, I'd want to slit my wrists," the soft but speedy-spoken Winters said from his home outside of Austin, Texas, a few weeks before the opening of his show at the Telfair, Dan Winters's America: Icons and Ingenuity. "Truthfully, most of what I do is way more interesting than that. It's fun to meet actors, and there's a collaborative process there, and people in the integrated visual world get that. But working out in my woodshop or building something in my drawing room or doing collages or sculpture, while autonomous, is a lot more satisfying."