09
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 19th September – 20th December 2015

 

 

Following on from the magnificent Francesca Woodman, here we have an artist from a previous period who investigates aspects of alienation, despair, loss and hope. These are of the era:

Post-McCarthyism but still caught in that cataclysm / Henri Cartier-Bresson / Irving Penn / Ansel Adams / Saturday Evening Post / Allen Ginsberg / Beat Generation / emerging counterculture of the 1960s.

It is an Americana (the despairing history, geography and culture of the United States) with an elusive meaning and a aesthetic that seems to be tight … but one that can’t stand to be scratched.

While some of the images are memorable (such as Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956) there is not much living, lying underneath. Nothing that reveals itself to me over time, that makes me return to the image again and again, for insight and, possibly, refreshment. A little hope and much sadness.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“City streets were Heath’s first studio: Philadelphia; Chicago; New York, where he came to prominence; and later Toronto. Isolation is a prevailing theme: Subjects gaze cryptically into the camera, their expressions unreadable. Often they stare beyond the frame, lost in thought. Crowds of individuals populate a single location, but don’t interact; disconnected, in their own worlds.

The dispossessed and alienated are Heath’s subjects, and he wrote his autobiography with their images: children with ragged clothes and dirty faces, stone-faced or crying, hardly ever smiling. A sweet-faced girl with tangled hair and huge light eyes stares out from the cover of Heath’s masterwork A Dialogue with Solitude, as if to say, “Here I am,” and nothing more…

Heath, who had to find his way alone, photographed passengers looking out of car windows and riding in elevated trains, going who knows where? Many photos are of just one person, and even the group shots set one occupant apart. Faces are expressionless, but their eyes are full of sorrow, uncertainty, loneliness, fear. We recognize that look: the one we all have when our public mask falls away and our faces betray the thoughts that wake us in the middle of the night.”

.
Pamela J.  Forsythe. “Alone together” on the Broad Street Review website October 18, 2015

 

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967
1967 (negative); 1968 (print)
Gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 10 1/2 inches (18.1 x 26.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Berkeley, California, 1964'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Berkeley, California, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
4 5/8 x 6 13/16 inches (11.7 x 17.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Erin Freed, New York City, 1963'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Erin Freed, New York City, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 x 8 3/4 inches (18.6 x 22.2 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Carl Dean Kipper, Korea, 1953-54'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Carl Dean Kipper, Korea, 1953-54
1953-54
Gelatin silver print
6 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches (17.1 x 24.8 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Philadelphia, 1952'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Philadelphia, 1952
1952
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

“Experience Dave Heath’s bittersweet vision of modern life in his powerful photographs of loss and hope.

From a crowd gathered in Central Park to solitary figures lost in thought, Dave Heath’s images conjure feelings of alienation and a desire for human connection. Multitude, Solitude highlights the photographer’s black-and-white pictures of the 1950s and 1960s, an intense period of self-discovery and innovation for the artist. During these pivotal years, Heath developed groundbreaking approaches to narrative and image sequence, producing exquisite individual prints, handmade book maquettes, his poetic masterwork, A Dialogue with Solitude, and multimedia slide presentations. His sensitive explorations of loss, pain, love, and hope reveal Heath to be one of the most original photographers of those decades.

This exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of Heath’s deeply personal early work. Abandoned by both his parents by the age of four, Heath lived in Philadelphia foster homes and in an orphanage until the age of sixteen. The turmoil of his childhood profoundly shaped Heath and his artistic vision. Just before his sixteenth birthday, he encountered a poignant photo-essay about foster care in Life magazine, and became intrigued by photography’s potential to transcend simple reportage. Almost entirely self-taught, Heath channeled his feelings of abandonment into a body of work that underscores the importance and difficulties of human contact and interaction. Multitude, Solitude reaffirms Heath’s status as a key figure in twentieth-century photography and highlights his deeply empathetic sensibility.

About the artist

Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Dave Heath became interested in photography as a teenager. In the following years he trained himself in the craft, taking courses in commercial art, working in a photo-processing lab, and studying paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While stationed in Korea with the US Army, he photographed his fellow soldiers, creating images that are at once candid and subdued. In 1957 Heath moved to New York City and established himself as a major artistic talent.Heath taught at the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio, and Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, before moving in 1970 to Toronto, where he headed the photography program at Ryerson University for many years. His work is in the collections of leading museums, including The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Heath’s major monograph, A Dialogue with Solitude, was published in 1965 and reprinted in 2000. His work has been included in important historical studies and surveys, such as Robert M. Doty’s Photography in America (1974); John Szarkowski’s Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 (1978); James Borcoman’s Magicians of Light: Photographs from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada (1993); and Keith F. Davis’s An American Century: From Dry-Plate to Digital (1999).”

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 9/16 inches (16.2 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957' (detail)

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957 (detail)
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 9/16 inches (16.2 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 x 8 15/16 inches (18.3 x 22.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) '7 Arts Coffee Gallery, New York City, 1959'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
7 Arts Coffee Gallery, New York City, 1959
1959
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'New York City, 1958-59'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
New York City, 1958-59
1958-59
Gelatin silver print
7 x 8 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) '5th Avenue at 43rd Street, New York City, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
5th Avenue at 43rd Street, New York City, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Santa Barbara, California, 1964'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Santa Barbara, California, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
5 x 7 9/16 inches (12.7 x 19.2 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Rochester, New York, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Rochester, New York, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 9 13/16 inches (16.7 x 24.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1959-1960'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1959-1960
1959-1960
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Forever the outsider

Heath left Philadelphia to serve in the Korean War, where he photographed fellow soldiers and his impressions of war. Soon after his return, he departed for Chicago, where he worked as a photographer’s assistant. He began to assemble handmade books, grouping photos into themed essays and putting text to the images, establishing the template he would use in A Dialogue with Solitude.

Relocating to New York in 1957, Heath studied with photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, refining his photo essay technique and adopting Smith’s practice of making fine art prints of his work. He took photos with available light, in the street and at favorite haunts like Washington Square Park and Seven Arts Coffee Gallery, mounting the Dialogue exhibition in 1963. In that same year, he won his first Guggenheim.

Accepting life on its own terms

When Dialogue went to print in 1965, Heath employed the same editorial control he had with earlier creations, selecting, sizing, and laying out every photo, dictating typeface and size, and selecting text from famous authors, such as William Butler Yeats, Hermann Hesse, and T.S. Eliot. Only in the preface did he use his own words:

“Pressed from all sides by the rapid pace of technological progress and increased authoritarian control, many people are caught up in an anguish of alienation. Adrift and without sense of purpose, they are compelled to engage in a dialogue with the inmost depths of their being in a search for renewal.” He concludes, “What I have endeavored to convey in my work is not a sense of futility… but an acceptance… that the pleasures and joys of life are fleeting and rare.”

The final sections convey a few of those pleasurable moments: In two photos entitled Chicago (1956), a small boy stands, head thrown back in exultation, and two boys mug for the camera. In Fifth Avenue, New York City (1960), a father snuggles his baby to his face, looking over the child’s head protectively, and in Barbara Freed and Her Son Sean, New York City (1959), a toddler heads toward a pair of outstretched female hands. Heath selected the final excerpt from Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death?

.
Pamela J.  Forsythe. “Alone together” on the Broad Street Review website October 18, 2015

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Greenwich Village, New York City, 1957'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Greenwich Village, New York City, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 9 9/16 inches (32.1 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'New York City, 1962'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
New York City, 1962
1962
Gelatin silver print, 10 13/16 x 7 7/16 inches (27.5 x 18.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print, 12 9/16 x 8 9/16 inches (31.9 x 21.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 x 6 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1960'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches (32.1 x 21.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 3/8 inches (32.1 x 21.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Howard Crawford, c. 1953-54'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Howard Crawford, c. 1953-54
c. 1953-54
Gelatin silver print
13 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm

Philadelphia Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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