Neil Winokur

(1945) American


Neil Winokur was born in New York, and graduated from Hunter College in 1967 with a degree in math and physics. He began photographing with a borrowed camera, and in the early 1970s concentrated on black and white photographs of urban scenes. He left his job at the Strand bookstore to work in a photographer's studio, where he operated a large-format view camera and made black-and-white prints. Frustrated by the lack of time for his own work, however, he returned to the bookstore, where he is now in management. Winokur came to prominence in the 1980s with close-up color portraits of friends and acquaintances made with his view camera. The early portraits employed a white background and gel-colored strobe lights, but in the interest of creating a more "unnatural" effect, he placed his subjects in front of brightly colored seamless backdrops, and positioned strobe lights fitted with color filters in front of and behind his subjects. Life-size images are Winokur's trademark, whether he is photographing a person, an object, or an animal. Expanding on the concept of portraiture in the late 1980s, he created "totems," or multiple-frame installations composed of his human portraits and singular photographs of objects chosen by the subject for their personal significance. Winokur's work was included in The Photography of Invention: American Pictures of the 1980s, at the National Museum of American Art, as well as The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort at the Museum of Modern Art. A monograph on his work, Everyday Things: Photographs by Neil Winokur, was published in 1994.
Winokur's photography belongs to both the Pop Art tradition, with its elevation of the commonplace, and to the history of portraiture. He is interested in the idea of granting a moment of fame to each subject photographed as a way of recognizing our collective impermanence and mortality. His work questions what it means to be an icon, and asks viewers to consider the values they ascribe to themselves and their possessions.
Meredith Fisher

Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 232.
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