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Winter Reads: Winters Reads

What's better than a new book from Dan Winters? Try two new books from Dan Winters.

Both are gorgeous; both are limited press runs. So if you delayed getting your copy of his Periodicals book before it went out of print, don't miss out this time.

Short version: Last Launch is a love letter to the recently closed space shuttle program; Dan Winters's America is like having a one-man exhibition on your coffee table.

I make no secret of nor apology for my love of Dan Winters's work. And not just the beautiful photos and technical mastery, either.

What I most appreciate is how he curates and develops his ideas. How he has branched out from portraiture to an eclectic and meaningful body of work ranging from aerospace to electron micrography to constructed objects.

Last Launch: Discovery, Endeavor, Atlantis

Last Launch represents a new style of vehicle for Winters. Rather than a collection of his work for others, it is a self-conceived and finely executed project. He even designed the book himself.

It was strangely gratifying to learn that like most any personal project, permissions and access for Last Launch was cobbled together much like a giant pot of stone soup. Winters had shot John Glenn's return to space (STS-95, 1998) and had long followed NASA. When they announced Discovery's last launch (STS-133) he used NASA's Texas presence and approached Texas Monthly about doing a spread.

Publication outlet secured, he waded into the famous NASA red tape to gain approval and access. When the announcement came that, along with Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis would comprise the final three flights, he decided to expand the project.

He approached Time Magazine and they agreed to underwrite his photographing the other two launches, along with some of the other imagery from the program. His wife later suggested the project could be further expanded and developed into a book.

The launch photos from the final three missions are woven together with historical shots from the space program, shuttle interior and exterior studies and various objects used by and for the astronauts.

True to his style, he even photographed the historical photos as physical objects. More accurately, he photographed the actual wire service transmission images, which for me was very nostalgic.

At The Independent Florida Alligator, where I shot in college, we used ancient hand-me-down wire machines from UPI. So even though I started working for wire services in the 1980s, I immediately recognized the wire transmission photos from a generation before.

What's also striking to me is how Winters was able to leave his visual mark on something as oft-photographed as shuttle launches. Winters photographed the launches with manned and remote Canon DSLR cameras, and consciously chose the dark, moody look of the photos.

Said Winters:

"The exposure choices were deliberate to a degree. As you know, the pad cameras are placed the day before the launch. The solid rocket boosters intensely bright flame is usually what exposures are based on. I was very fortunate in that the atmospheric conditions on the day of each launch varied greatly which produced three very distinct sets of photographs.

The cameras that I was operating from the press site were set on launch day so I was able to set my exposures based on the conditions at the time of launch. For Atlantis and Endeavor we had very bright overcast skies. I underexposed a couple of stops to get a richness that one can only get photographically."

The result is striking, and the book itself is a departure from Winters's most often seen subject matter. To me, Last Launch is textbook example—literally—of how to approach an ambitious project as a photographer.

The sensitivity, thoughtfulness and persistence demonstrated by this project and book represent a high-water mark, and will inspire you as a photographer no matter what kind of project you may decide to attempt.

Oh, and bonus points: if there is anybody—anybody—on your holiday gift list who is a space buff, Last Launch is an absolute no-brainer.

It is the perfect gift for a photographer to give to a space aficionado. They probably don't know it exists, and they will absolutely love it.

Dan Winters's America: Icons and Ingenuity

Dan Winters's America is a completely different book than Last Launch.

Actually, scratch that, as a few of the space images are in this book, too. America is a retrospective of Winters's career to date, including editorial portraiture, aerospace, personal images, electron micrography, landscapes and "cameraless images."

It was produced in conjunction with a major exhibition at the Telfair Museums of Savannah, GA. If you live near Savannah, hopefully you got to see the show. If you don't live near Savannah and you would have liked to go, this is your book. Like the shuttle book it has lavish production values, printed on heavyweight paper with a matte finnish. It's gorgeous.

If you were not lucky enough to get a copy of Periodical Photographs before it went out of print, there is a selection of images that are included in both books.

(And, like Periodical Photographs, Last Launch and America are both small press runs. They will be gone soon, and you will either be kicking yourself or will have to pay crazy money to the OOP resellers. You snooze, you will lose.)

The portraiture in the book contains a lot of post-Periodical work. So if you enjoyed that book, this one is definitely worth a spot on the bookshelf. But trust me, you'll wanna keep it out on the coffee table. Unless you have pre-schoolers.

More than any other book, DWA is a walk through the mind of the photographer. I love the breadth of work it contains. The museum did a wonderful job of curating the images and this lavish book is the next best thing to being there.

And here's the thing: if you are like me, the book will at once both inspire you and make you too depressed to pick up a camera.

I mean, this is what I want to do. Not the celebrity portraiture, mind you. No, what I want is to be able to produce photos as meaningful and diverse and beautifully crafted as these.

And this book inspires me to go out and stretch myself, even as it quietly whispers into my ear, "Don't get your hopes up, Dave…"

I am never going to be able to create pictures like Dan Winters can. He's a one-off.

But I can have them in my house. And I can look at them any time I want. Mostly when I want inspiration. And then put them away just before the depressing self-realization starts to set in.


Last Launch: Discovery, Endeavor, Atlantis ($31.50) and Dan Winters's America: Icons and Ingenuity ($26.37) are both available from Amazon.

All photos on this page © Dan Winters, reproduced with permission.


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