At age 25 in 1987, working as a staff photographer for a small daily newspaper in his native southern California, Dan Winters got some time-honored advice—head east.
“I was talking with Greg Heisler at an Eddie Adams Workshop and I told him I wanted to work for magazines,” Winters recalls. “He said, ‘Here’s what you do: Go back and quit your job and move to New York City.’” Winters took it to heart. “Three weeks later I was in New York,” he says. “There was a lot of naiveté involved in that move, but also there’s that feeling that the parachute’s going to open somehow.”
After finding work as an assistant to commercial photographer Chris Callis, Winters kept his own creative juices flowing by shooting black-and-white street photography in the city. “It was a way to express my passion as I rode my bike around town,” he says. Inspired by legendary urban street photographers—Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander—Winters snapped away with hand-held medium-format cameras and Tri-X film. “It was a self-assignment—my attempt to wrestle the beast to see what I could do with it. Sort of an artistic rite of passage.”
After leaving New York in 1990 Winters became a famously versatile commercial and portrait photographer; he now splits time between Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles (with a beach house in Savannah, Georgia). While working on his 2014 photo history/memoir, Road to Seeing, Winters dug up his black-and-white NYC oeuvre, which he’d continued in subsequent years while visiting the city. “That work started to resonate in a new and special way,” he says.
The result is Winters’s monograph The Grey Ghost: New York City Photographs, an artful, personal collection reflecting an outsider’s take on an indifferent city. The series is also on view at L.A.’s Fahey/Klein Gallery through October 15. Here Winters shares his fond memories of creating this body of work.