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Dan Winters: Periodical Photographs

If Dan Winters hadn't discovered photography, he might have been an entomologist. Growing up in rural California, his Steinbeckian youth was defined by bugs, 4-H and science fair success, among many things. It was in 4-H, actually, that he was first introduced to photography. Now, years later, he concludes that portrait photography is not a far cry from his earlier scientific studies. "Shooting portraits of people is like taxonomy," he says. "I'm documenting [the] physical self." Many of these portraits can be found in his first monograph, Periodical Photographs, published by Aperture.

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This predilection for science has lent itself to carefully composed and systematically lit stills. But — despite his expertise in camera mechanics and human face topography — Winters still has a tough time describing his style. He denies really even having a style. At least in this book, though, there's a certain aesthetic underpinning that makes each photo a recognizable Winters shot. There's the color palette: earthy greens and steely grays splashed with vivid reds and bright whites. In most of the portraits, there's a certain unsettling, off-centered gaze, suspended stature and understated wardrobe.

Frequently his portraits grace the pages of major American magazines. Stripped of fashion and styling, and minimally retouched, they're known for their timelessness. But the rest of his portfolio reveals an appreciation for — and deep understanding of — American culture. In fact, if he hadn't discovered photography, and if entomology hadn't worked out, he might have been a historian. Not only is he concerned with making images that will outlive the rabble of most commercial photos, but he is also highly informed by American history.

The Hymenoptera Box of the Late George Merriken, Rancher, Citrus Grower, and Amateur Entomologist, Fillmore, Calif., July 22, 2000 By Dan Winters hide caption

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By Dan Winters

Winters knows his predecessors well, photographers and painters alike, and fully acknowledges their influence. Edward Hopper, Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz — all the midcentury greats. "You're either a Stieglitz guy or a Steichen guy," he asserts, "like you're a Rolling Stones guy or [a fan of] The Who. They're two different kinds of people." Interestingly enough, Steichen was the more commercial photographer. But Winters still associates himself, and his work, with a school of early documentary photography.

At the beginning of photography there was a real naivete about it. They tended to be these participatory exchanges where the subject and the photographer [were] both acknowledging the process. ... And I really like that agreement, that pact between the photographer and the subject: we are here to make a picture right now.

There's a fear that the time-honored art of film photography is endangered. But it's safe to say that with his large format cameras and love of the trade, Winters is not just connecting with tradition — he's perpetuating it.

Periodical Photographs will be released next week, and the photos will be displayed at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles starting July 30. So if you're in the neighborhood, it will be worth your while to see massive celebrity prints, as well as big, BIG — and in Winters' words, "bitchin" — prints of bugs.

Images courtesy Dan Winters, from the book Periodical Photographs, published by Aperture, May 2009.

By Claire O'Neill

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