Dan Watts Photography
© Copyright 2007 Dan Watts Photography. All rights reserved.
The JW Marriott Sister City Photography Project

When Dan Watts was a student at William James College in the 1970’s, Bob Burns (filmmaker Ken Burn’s father) was one of his photography professors and his academic advisor. Dan remembers telling Bob he would like to concentrate on anthropological photography, combining his two loves into one. Even as he said it, Dan wondered how on earth a photographer could make a living doing such obscure and exclusive work. But it just felt right to him.

After graduation he went to work for a production company that specialized in multi-screen, multi-projector slide shows for office furniture showrooms across the United States. As the skills required for this specialized work evolved, he became proficient in the art of conceptualization, in scripting, soundtrack production, studio and location photography, editing and staging. 

Dan has now traveled to 34 countries on corporate, magazine and personal projects, spending a total of more than three years on the road in the Orient, Europe, Africa and Latin America. All these experiences, skills and abilities made Dan the perfect match for a very unique photographic project for the new JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. His photography now decorates the walls of all 330 guest rooms, the corridors and a large one-man photo-gallery in the new luxury-class hotel. 

To complete this massive project, Dan spent a year planning out and traveling to four different continents to complete extensive photo essays of each of the five Grand Rapids’ Sister-Cities. Cherry blossoms and the Fire Festival in Omihachiman, Japan, the amazing architecture of Perugia, Italy and Bielsko-Biala, Poland, and the people of the Ga District of Ghana in West Africa and Zapopan Mexico all make up the largest single collection of Sister-City photography in the world, a total of 16,855 photographs.

This was without a doubt the most difficult and demanding project he had ever taken on. The combination of his photographic skills with his knowledge of geography, travel planning, organization, social skills and yes, anthropology has culminated in a truly spellbinding collection of images. And now, three decades later, his work as a photographic storyteller has confirmed his status as an anthropological photographer.

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