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Dan Winters: Road to Seeing

UPDATE, March, 2016: The price on Road to Seeing is steadily creeping up, which points to a diminishing inventory. When it's gone, it's gone. And then it's gonna get hella expensive.

I am at a loss for a quick way to describe Dan Winters' just-shipped book, Road to Seeing. That's because it defies nearly any category of photo book I have seen to date.

It's nearly 700 pages long, and is far and away the deepest journey into the photographic process I have ever read. It includes technique, but in the context of the journey covered in this book technique is almost an afterthought. And appropriately so.

Best way I can put it: Road to Seeing is not so much a book as it is a mentorship.


Part of me wants to do the standard run-though of Road to Seeing, to give an idea of its breadth and depth. To talk about the huge number of images it contains—only about half of which were shot by Winters himself.

About how it is a wonderfully detailed manual—a personal journal, even?—of one man's life path to becoming of on the greatest illustrative portraitists of his generation.

About its significant nod to the history of photography and to so many influential photographers who have come before.

About its deep journey into the internal process of photography and creativity and craft.

But another part of me says to just keep it vague and to not ruin the reader's experience by mapping out the book before they begin it.

So instead I'll just say this. The book starts in Winters' childhood and from there explores the decades of layers and experiences that made him into the person he is today. Like anyone's path, his has its moments of randomness. But there is also serendipity, conscious decisions and significant risks taken along the way.

The narrative is, for the first portion of the book, mostly chronological. From there, Winters wanders down the occasional side path looking in-depth at assignments or other types of projects. But he always comes back to the core of who he is, and in that forces you to examine your own core beliefs as a photographer.

Or to recognize that maybe you have not yet discovered your own core beliefs and that it is high time you got started doing so. The thing that leaps out at you throughout, is that this is not randomness at all. It is his continually, consciously chosen path as a photographer.

Road to Seeing is not a book you blow through and exit with a new bag of techniques. It is a book you absorb over time. In fact, I wonder even what percentage of young photographers will possess the mental wherewithal to realize exactly what they are holding in their hands.

I'd like to think this book would have significantly altered my path had I read it as a 20-year-old. But I have to wonder. I was having a lot of fun shooting for newspapers at that age, and probably would not have been ready to hear what it has to say. But boy, does it resonate at 48.

It is very possible that people of different ages (and different points along their own paths) will read this as entirely different books. And will go back to it five years later and see it completely differently.

So in that sense I think it is appropriate for a serious college student. Or a 48-year-old student, as the case may be.

The Economics of Seeing

First, a warning: this book is not going to be around for a long time. At least, not in hardback form.

That's because it is lengthy and lavish and damn expensive to produce. As much as it was a labor of love for Winters, it was just as much a commitment for editors Ted Waitt and James Hughes. To say that they blew the budget on it is a laughable understatement.

"The permissions on the photography alone…" Ted repeated to me more than once while were talking about the process of birthing this thing. Winters just kept adding pages and photographs from others who had influenced him and more pages and more pages. What are you gonna do? Say "no?"

Internally, the book became known as Moby Dan. But to their credit, they stuck by Winters and fought the battles (and, let's be honest, in many ways bet their jobs) that the end result would be worth it to produce. Having now held it in my hand, I can't tell you how much respect I have for them for that.

But here's what all of that means: there will be a first edition. There might be a second printing. But this book is going to go away. It is super expensive to print a book like this, and at one point you just aren't gonna justify running off another 10k copies.

It'll exist in E-form, I am sure. But won't be the same. And to predictable economic result for those who did not get their hard copy when the getting was good.

I'll tell you this much. I am buying more than one copy. I want to have them for photographer friends who are (or who become) very special to me. And I do not want to kick myself later for not getting them when they could be had for ~$50.

It feels strange to speak this highly of landmark photo book so soon after another book hit the shelves this fall. I guess 2013 was just the year lightning struck twice in the same place.

Please don't miss this one.

:: Road to Seeing, by Dan Winters :: (Amazon)


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