Dan Winters interview part 2. Part 1 is (here).
Dan Winters, September 1989, New York City, photograph by Kevin Amer
Dan: I worked for Chris for exactly a year. When my year was coming up, and I said, ” two more months left.” And he’s like, “you’re really going to stop?” and I said, “yeah, I want to shoot.” The entire time I had worked for him, every weekend I was shooting at his studio because he would go to his house on the North Brook Long Island with his wife, and I would have friends come over and shoot portraits of them and do lighting. I built my portfolio while I was working for him. So when I left him, I started going to night meetings.
Rob: A year. that’s pretty fast isn’t it? Sounds like you were super ambitious
Dan: Yeah, I mean this is my life. I had that place in Little Italy for only three months, and then I found a room in Brooklyn in Park Slope. I was dying to get into the city, so I found a shit hole, we called it the hell-hole. It was this building on Lake Street and Hudson in TriBeCa, which at the time was like no man’s land. There wasn’t even a restaurant, you couldn’t do anything. You had to ride your bike over the canal to get Cuban food.
There were three of us in this place, I had one room and my darkroom was in my room and I slept on a futon so I could fold it up and shoot. I’ll never forget opening my eyes when I woke up and looking at chemistry that’s on my shelf.
Dan: This was a really interesting time. Throughout the history of magazine photography, there had been individual voices but there was more of a different schools of photography. You had the “Geographic” school, the “Life” school and the “Esquire” school of photography. So the magazines were dictating the look, to a certain extent. And photographers were really kind of like scurrying to fit in so that they could be shooting for that magazine, rather than a photographer really trying to hone his own voice and get it published.
So, in the ’80s, I feel like a lot of individualization started to happen with guys like Seliger, Chip Simons, Eisler, Karen Kuehn. Then there was Bill Duke and Matt Mahurin, who did tons of stuff for “Rolling Stone” and were really trying to really individualize. And some of it was based in technique, which I always feel like is a little bit shallow, because I think, when you rely totally on technique, if you have the waif-y, alabaster-skinned model, and you have the right background, you have the right lights, and you have the 8-by-10 Polaroid, you can make this kind of picture. But if you take any of those elements away, you don’t get that. So that’s really technique-based. It’s not like vision.
Heisler was a big influence on me. He could do anything. He was shooting still-life objects and portraits and all kinds of stuff. He did this great photo essay on the Olympics with this amazing portrait of Louganis diving off the high-dive, in infrared four-by-five. I’m like, “Oh, that’s amazing shit.” I was just like, “Wow, this is great!” So that’s where my head was. My head was in New York. My head was on this work.
I built this portfolio up and started to take my portfolio around. It was a custom box, with loose prints, all black and white. You dropped it off, you waited around, you picked it up, you took it somewhere else, because I only had one. So I went to Metropolis Magazine, the design studio that did it was Helene Silverstein and Jeff Christensen, because they didn’t have an in-house art department. They had a studio called Hello Studio, which was awesome, cause when they answered the phone they’d say, “hello studio.” Which always cracked me up.
What I’d do is I ‘d go to the newsstands, to look at magazines and figure out where my work could fit, which I think is very important for a photographer to do. So I would drop off my book. Then ride my bike over to the Cuban restaurant that I used to live at, then I went home and the red message light was beeping on my phone. I picked up the message. And it was Jeff, at Metropolis. He said, “This is Jeffery, you dropped you book off here a few hours ago, I have a couple of assignment for you.”