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Perspective | Dan Winters

An excerpt from Road to Seeing, the much anticipated autobiography by the legendary photographer.

My son Dylan was born in December 1993. We owned a beautiful home on Bryn Mawr Drive in the Hollywood Hills that provided us with a peaceful haven amid the bustle of Los Angeles. I called the house “the tree house,” as it reminded me of the Swiss Family Robinson tree house at Disneyland, which was magical to me as a boy. It was quiet and secluded and provided a nurturing environment for Dylan as a toddler. As he grew older and started nursery school and kindergarten he was, out of necessity, spending more and more time on the LA freeway system. One day, while driving him to school and sitting in the bumper-to-bumper drollery that is the 101 freeway, I caught a glimpse of him in the rearview mirror. He was sitting quietly, gazing out of the window in what appeared to be a moment of contemplation. It was as though he were pondering his predicament.

I had fond memories of a childhood filled with space to run and explore, and longed to offer my son a childhood that reflected my priorities rather than the experience he was having in Los Angeles. The moment was a seminal one for me as a father. Shortly thereafter, Kathryn and I decided to try living somewhere else. I had long been fond of Texas, and was particularly drawn to Austin. Kathryn’s mother, Meta Sue, was born in Texas, and Meta’s mother, Mary Emma, is still living in San Antonio at age 96. We also had friends in Austin who loved the city for its quality of life. Kathryn and I began seriously considering a move.

I have tried to view my successes and failures in equal measure, and always from the standpoint of their significance in my growth as a man. I try to live free of regrets, but as humans, it’s common for us to focus deeply on our failures. If I were to view my behavior during my 10-year period in Hollywood, it’s clear to me that I was living more unconsciously than I would have preferred. My work ruled my life, and the decisions I made were usually steeped in the frenzy that was my career. I would have liked to spend more time with my friends and family, and I’m grateful that I came to this awareness when I did. I was recently reading about a hospice worker who recorded the last thoughts and words of many of the people she assisted in their final days. One of the most common regrets people shared was that they wished they hadn’t worked so much. Kathryn and I agreed that moving out of Los Angeles was the right thing to do.

Austin is a wonderful city packed with cosmopolitan offerings, yet devoid of most of the frustrations that come with living in a larger metropolis. World-class music is performed live nearly every night. There is an incredible food culture, plenty of green space, and, most importantly, a conscientious populace. The city is home to the University of Texas at Austin, and the optimism and energy of its student body resonates throughout the city. It’s a genuinely special place.

Kathryn visited Austin to assess the situation and, after being in town for only a few days, bought a house. We made the move one month later, leaving our Hollywood Hills home and LA office intact, just in case things didn’t pan out as we hoped they would. For several months, I continued to spend most of my time in Los Angeles, working in my Hollywood studio. But as soon as I had a break, I began the search for a studio outside Austin. Eventually I found a building in the country, 22 miles from downtown, at a crossroads called Driftwood. Built in 1903, the structure served the small ranching community into the 1990s as the post office, general store, gas station, barbershop, and feed store. The roads in the area had remained unpaved until the late ’80s. The seclusion is a true gift. The property has turned into a compound, with several free-standing structures housing my woodshop, storage, and various shooting spaces. There is also a WPA-constructed outhouse, which for me was one of the property’s most salient selling points. The studio is two miles from a deep swimming hole and world-class barbecue. The home Kathryn found for us is a short walk from a lake, and Dylan’s summers were filled with swimming and fireflies. Though we maintain a home and office in Los Angeles and a beach house on Tybee Island, outside of Savannah, Georgia, Austin has been a true gift from the universe. The seclusion of my studio has afforded me a place that is truly peaceful. This environment has given rise to an intense amount of personal work, as well as many seminal assignment jobs, in the years I’ve spent there. It has revealed itself as my corner of the universe.

Credits

Photography by Dan Winters

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