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American Eye
Dan Winters' first solo museum show hits the Jepson Center

Considering he's been one of America's most in-demand editorial and celebrity portrait photographers for decades, it's not surprising that Dan Winters would have a solo museum show. What is surprising, however, is that it's taken this long to have one.

Indeed, the "Dan Winters's America: Icons and Ingenuity" show now at the Jepson Center is in fact his first-ever solo retrospective. The show not only features the distinctive celebrity shoots for which Winters is most famous, but his Cold War-inspired collages, evocative black and white images of his own family, and images of what he says is his real photographic love, aerospace.

We were at the Jepson for the opening, and here some tidbits from Winters's artist talk.


We did a lot of different setups for this. The skin suit was his idea. At one point I did a full length shot and you could see his underwear through the suit. He stopped and said, "Oh my God, this is so stupid." He's always the nicest, coolest guy in the room - very generous and friendly.


Tupac was the sweetest, most gentle person. You'll never believe what music he wanted to listen to during the shoot: Counting Crows. I know how long the shoot was, because we listened to it three times! I told some of my son's friends - and they of course absolutely deified Tupac - and I said what music he wanted to listen to, and they were like, "oooooh."


One of the most wonderful shoots of my career. I spent three days with Fred Rogers in Pittsburgh. At any given time people would pull me away and say things like, "I've worked with Fred for 25 years, he's the most amazing person I could ever hope to work for." Which to me spoke volumes about his actual character.

His mom knitted all his sweaters, by the way. He had 14 and she knitted every single one of them.


I was born on Oct. 21, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember talking to my mom about the unsettling feeling she had then, to be bringing someone into the world with such a profound event taking place.

The first time I was ever in a darkroom I was nine years old. I had joined 4-H with my friend. There's such a distinctive smell in the darkroom. It's unmistakable. Anytime I go in my own darkrooms it takes me right back to that time when I was a little kid.


I've photographed him several times. We talk about World War II. That's one of his interests and one of mine too. And I have an Omega Speedmaster II watch and he has one too (laughs).


Johnny Cash. We just couldn't do it. His schedule, my schedule. Just couldn't make it work.


I think there are only two subjects I've had myself photographed with. One was Debbie Harry. I had such a crush on her when I was a teenager. And the other was Buzz Aldrin, last Tuesday!


Actors are usually limited shoots — limited by physical space and by the times they’re available. The most enjoyable part of my job is working with other artists with an appreciation for the visual arts as well. I find actors in general to have a deep understanding of it.

Her look was inspired by Veronica Lake. I’m a huge fan of old movies. Veronica Lake had that beautiful golden hair, just this air of mystery with it all swept over on one side. I really wanted to strip this down — I didn’t want it to be about clothes, just make it a pure portrait.

I’ve found that hair and makeup people really shine in these situations.  I always say to them, just use your judgment. They always bring things to the table.


This show is mostly a retrospective, so it's about 97 percent film. With the shuttle stuff of course digital is the only way to do it. I shoot a lot of digital now for commissions, a whole lot. Digital just wasn't there for me for a long time, but with this next generation of sensors I was like, OK, we're finally getting on the right track.


I swing for the fence every time. If I hit a single I'm happy. If I hit a double or a triple, I've had a great day. And if I hit a home run I'm thrilled.

Sometimes I've shot literally only 15 sheets of film. Or sometimes 200 sheets of film. You've got to have a sense of, we're getting it right now, this is good - OK, we've got it.

I tell students, a million amazing photographs happened today and they went unreported. You get these moments, and you have to see it, react it, and treasure it.


I shot the last three space shuttles, Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis. When I heard there was going to be the last shuttle launch, instantly I thought, I have to document this. I didn't want general media access - I wanted vantage points no human could survive, to capture the chaos of the launch. We had triggers on the cameras that armed themselves ten minutes before launch.

I like to do this work and magazines know I like to do this work, so they call me. When they need somebody to shoot an F-35, I'm all over it. I'd much rather shoot this kind of stuff than Tom Hanks (laughs).

Dan Winters's America: Icons and Ingenuity

When: Through Nov. 11

Where: Jepson Center for the Arts