texasmonthly.com: Where did the idea for the insect-display-case look come from?
Dan Winters: I had been doing these photographs of insect collections for quite a while, and we actually have a photograph of an insect collection that this directly references, on the green background exactly how this looks. Scott Dadich [ Texas Monthly’s art director] was like, “Wow, what if we did barbecue like that?” Basically the idea was “Wow, look at Johnny’s barbecue collection,” which we thought was really interesting because the scientific presentation of objects is so non-contextual, it removes the subject completely from its origin. So the idea of taking these pieces of barbecue and treating them as specimens is a very atypical approach to food photography—the MO [modus operandi] with food photography usually is to make it look as appetizing as possible. We’d been talking about it for more than a year, and then about a month and a half ago we had a meeting; Scott, Gary Tanhauser, and I—the three individuals who collaborated on this—drew up life-size schematics of the boxes and built them to the proportions of the page so that they filled it entirely. We decided we’d do an opening page box, a vertical page box, and a double-page spread box. Gary built those at our shop referencing a specimen box that Scott found. We got insect mounting pins and little boxes for the moth crystals. Everything in there is like spot-on for an insect collection. I used to collect insects, so I have this knowledge of insect stuff. We really stayed true to that scientific aesthetic for display and labeled everything. I have a lot of experience with mounting insects and pinning, so I was pretty adept at how to lay out the boxes and present them. Scott and I contributed equally on how to lay out the boxes. It’s a pretty standard technique for dry-mounting any kind of scientific artifact, although what we adhered to was a definite entomological approach.
texasmonthly.com: It seems like taking things out of their context, finding a surprising or unexpected way to look at them, is a common thread in your work.
DW: Yeah, absolutely. The idea of trying not to fight the thing, but rather to embrace it—this is what it is. Obviously, in this case, we are trying to take the subject out of context. But it really is kind of a pure representation—like meat—not the really fuzzy food-photography approach where everything’s out of focus with a little thin line in focus and the idea is for it to be really mouth-watering and alluring. We didn’t want to make them look repulsive, but our agenda was not to make them very seductive either. I like the idea that it’s just an objective look.
texasmonthly.com: Did you learn anything about meat shooting this story?
DW: Actually, I stopped eating meat about seven months ago; I just eat fish and occasionally a little chicken here and there, but for the most part, I just eat tuna and the like. My studio is in Driftwood, less than a mile from the Salt Lick [a barbecue restaurant], and I think I totally OD‘d on meat. Like,