Inspired by such photographic masters such as Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and August Sander, Dater was drawn to portraiture early in her career, and has continued to explore the power of photographic portrait. She is fascinated by the capacity of the medium to achieve the what photographic historian James Enyeat has described as the "realm of psychological characterization". Dater says: "People tend to reveal themselves to the camera and express something about themselves, perhaps even something hidden from themselves."
A number of photographs shown on the gallery page were part of Dater's 1972 solo exhibition at the Witkin Gallery in New York. These pictures of women, taken between 1969 and 1972, articulate a profound sense of emotional energy, sexual tension, and assertiveness emblematic of the era. Early in her career, Dater understood that portraiture could not be primarily concerned with the projections of the photographer. Instead, the manifest presence of the photographed woman is channeled from subject to photographer and thus to the viewer.
Dater's concern with the difficulties of representation led to a sustained project of self-portraiture between 1980 and 1983. During numerous trips to the desert regions of the southwestern United States, close the country's border, Dater explored the boundaries of the form. The portraits that emerged, grounded in landscape, evoke ritualistic performances and earthworks, and led to Dater's sparse and experimental approach to photography in the late 1980s and 1990s.Judy Dater has been the author or subject of four major book publications including Women and Other Visions: Photographs by Jack Welpott and Judy Dater (1975), Imogen Cunningham: A Portrait (1979), Judy Dater: Twenty Years (1986), Body and Soul: Ten American Women (1988), and Cycles: Judy Dater (1994).