Some would describe Geoff Winningham as a documentary photographer, but he likes to think of himself as more of a picture-maker bookmaker. He photographs a lot in mostly still pictures that contain a strong sense of place, but his specialty is bringing his pictures together with words. Winningham prefers not to exhibit his work as art pieces, but rather in the form of books.
With a natural curiosity towards landscape, Winningham's photography career started in predominantly black and white photographs. Particularly when he was taking up photography, all of the traditions of serious photography were solely in black and white, as color photography back then was thought of as something only for commercials and advertising. The shift to color didn't emerge until the '70s and '80s.
What he does: Growing up in a small town in Western Tennessee, Winningham came to Houston almost 50 years ago to study at Rice University. After graduating in 1965, he pursued photography in graduate school, and then returned to Houston to become a part of Rice's faculty 43 years ago in the photography and media center. He is currently not only a professor, but also started a unique project two years ago pertaining to photographs he took 30 years ago in Arkansas.
"It's a very curious and unusual project for me. I've gone back to the pictures I took over 30 years ago of vernacular architecture in Arkansas. Barns, stores, churches, homes and most of the buildings that were photographed in 1981 and 1982 are gone now. I've been going back and finding people who remember the buildings or the work that was done in the buildings or lived in the town, and I engage them in conversation and they tell me stories. I'm combining the stories that people tell me in response to the pictures that I'm taking."
What inspires him? Winningham is inspired by not only other photographers, but also previous photographs and pictures that he has captured.
"I photograph one thing and it leads from one thing to another. From 2002 to 2009, I was photographing the Gulf Coast of Mexico. That led me to a special interest on Galveston Island. Before the Gulf Coast it was Buffalo Bayou, which literally leads you to the gulf. Projects kind of lead me to my work."
If not this, then what? In his opinion, Winningham holds the two greatest jobs in the world.
"I love teaching. I love photographing and bookmaking. I could try to be a full-time writer, but I feel like I don't have the personality to be one -- I get too stir-crazy. Though if I was younger and sharper, I think I would be an entrepreneur."
If not here, then where? Even though Winningham is completely in love with Houston, he does consider himself an unofficial resident of Mexico.
"In the United States, I love Houston. There's no other place in the world like it. Two things: culture diversity, the great ethnic mix of Houston, and also what I like to call the can-do atmosphere. Houston is a place where if I have an idea or a project, I feel like I can find the support to get it done. It's always been that way for me. Ever since 1971 when I put together my first book, in a week I had a publisher. I love the city for its atmosphere and for its "it will make it happen" attitude.
But in Mexico, I love many things about the culture, deeply. Our house is in central Mexico, but my current favorite area is the gulf coast of the state of Veracruz. It's not a state that is developed for tourism. I really would like people to see how beautiful it is."
What's next? Apart from his Arkansas book project, Winningham has a keen interest in working with children. In Mexico, he has held workshops that teach children photography and art.
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"That has been really inspiring. Children kind of amaze me. Young children, about age five or six, and the way they see, the way they use a camera, is so surprising that it's inspiring to me."
Winningham would like to start a project in Houston to enable children to photograph and make art about their home here.
More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Johnathon Michael Espinoza, visual artist Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor Katya Horner, photographer Johnathan Felton, artist Nicoletta Maranos, cosplayer Carol Simmons, hair stylist Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, actor, poet Greg Carter, director Kenn McLaughlin, theater director Justin Whitney, musician Antone Pham, tattoo artist Susie Silbert, crafts Lauralee Capelo, hair designer Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director J.J. Johnston, theater director Mary Margaret Hansen, artist Richard Tallent, photographer Viswa Subbaraman, opera director Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist Sonja Roesch, gallery owner Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor Sandy Ewen, musician Camella Clements, puppeteer Wade Wilson, gallery owner Magid Salmi, photographer Carl Williams, playwright