As a photography editor, I’ve met many photographers I enjoyed or learned from and many who are still my friends today. In the evolution of my working relationship with Dan Winters, the underlying quality was a sense of old connection, like we’d known each other forever. With each project we worked on together, there was a deepening awareness of substance, humanity and mutual trust.
A lot of people love working with Dan Winters, so in that I’m not unique. He is one of the foremost editorial photographers of our time for good reason. For me, there was always something about him that made me feel at home, a shared origin rooted in art, orchards, the West and the understated. It had nothing to do with magazines or the politics of publication so I often felt that we “got away with” making art in a context that’s not always accepting of art. When an artful being raises from the drought that publishing plus commerce creates, it’s a thrill. It is especially so when that artist has the tools, aesthetic, and craftsmanship to convince editors of their gifts, allowing art to thrive and excel even when sandwiched between the aspirational ads for jewelry and furnishings.
When I call Dan Winters a friend, I should explain that I never shared dinner with him or his wife and manager Catherine, though with both we shared enough thoughtful conversations to place them in a respected place in my world. We spent time together as he photographed beloved vintage robots and science fiction movie props at a collectors cluttered house in North Hollywood and I watched in admiration at the comfortable way he photographed Anthony Hopkins in a hotel room turned studio in Santa Monica. He skillfully executed my concept of still life top hat and cane for a classic Hollywood feature in a way that was fascinating to observe and stunningly beautiful.
A few years ago when I was in Austin, Texas for SXSW, I had plans to visit Dan and Catherine at the studio where he made so many of the still life photographs that we spent our phone conversations working through. I wanted to see for myself the studio where I’d shipped him orange trees and crates of a range of citrus fruit for the California Citrus series that now sits on my mantle – the studio he said smelled absolutely amazing. Ultimately my schedule didn’t end up allowing the visit so when I found Dan by chance sitting across from me in the airport as we both were leaving town, it felt like kismet.
All this is to say that it’s probably impossible for me to critique Dan Winter’s work objectively, so I won’t even try. I will urge you to go see his exhibition Last Launch at Fahey Klein Gallery in Los Angeles through August 31. Winters received close-range access from NASA to photograph the last launches of the space shuttles Discovery (February 24, 2011), Atlantis (May 17, 2011), and Endeavour (May 11, 2011). With multiple automatically controlled cameras, bolted into place for stability, Dan Winters records the dramatic launches of the last flight of these shuttles as they were sent hurtling into space. The resulting launch photographs are breathtaking, whether one has an interest in space travel or not.
The exhibition depicts far more than the launches alone however, and large-scale “portraits’ of the shuttles, lunar rovers and elite fighter planes, cockpits and mission control panels remind those familiar with Dan Winters’ work just how good he is at photographing gadgets, machines and all things science. My personal favorites were the detail shots of the astronaut’s gloves, as well as the full-length flight suits. Neil Armstrong’s Lunar Glove is much more than just a discarded piece of a uniform. In Winters’ hands, the glove appears to be fully inhabited. In my mind it is filled with all the dreams of everyone who once huddled around a television set to see Armstrong’s fuzzy apparition, as he was the first to put a boot down on the surface of the moon. Last Launch is as close as many of us will get to experiencing the historical space program and a rare opportunity to see work by the gifted Dan Winters.
Last Launch: Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis is also a book published by the University of Texas Press. His other books include Dan Winters’ America: Icons and Ingenuity (2012), and Dan Winters: Periodical Photographs (2009). Dan Winters is a regular contributor for Vanity Fair, New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Texas Monthly.
Fahey/Klein Gallery is located at 148 North La Brea Avenue, between First Street and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. The gallery is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, 323 934 2250.