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Gelatin silver print
Titled and dated, in ink, au verso
Printed in June 1966
By the age of four, Dave Heath (1931-2016) had been abandoned by both of his parents. By the age of fifteen he had lived in a series of foster homes and, finally, in an orphanage. Given that only his mother was of the Jewish tradition (yet this is how he was being raised) as well as the lack of any family support, he did not feel that he belonged anywhere.
However, through the study of Jewish history he gained an understanding of a human community and our individual commitments to survival. Coupling this with American history Heath began to lay the groundwork for his belief in a purposeful life. At this early age, Heath knew that he wanted to be an artist; seeing this as the best way to experience the world and come to define himself within it. His commitment to mastering every facet of the medium of photography has earned the respect of connoisseurs for many years.
Dave Heath was a master black & white printer. He essentially stopped printing in the late 1960s when he devoted himself to making slide presentations and, later, Polaroid photographs. Most of Heath’s images exist in 1-2 prints made close to the time of the negative, with the notable exception of images in his sequence A Dialogue With Solitude. Before he was able to secure a publisher for this seminal book he endeavoured to make ten examples of each of the 80 photographs to be released as ‘Master Sets’. He seemed to have completed printing about three-quarters of the total by the time a publisher was secured, which brought an end to the production of the ‘Master Sets’. Projects following ADWS were printed similarly, 1-2 first prints, but those making the final edit for a sequence would be printed in editions of 1/5 or 1/10; typically dry-mounted to board. His late 1960s ‘Proof Prints’ are mostly unique prints because his eventual solution for presenting the work from that period was a slide show, hence no ‘Master Sets’ were required. Since the late 1960s, until his death in 2016, Heath did not make newer prints from his black & white negatives.
Dave Heath - Dialogues with Solitudes - The Eye Of Photography, 2018
A major exhibition of his work, Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA until February 21, 2016. May/July, 2017 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
The work of American photographer Dave Heath (b. 1931) stuns with its emotional potency. Exploring themes of loneliness and alienation in modern society, Heath’s photographs depict strangers riding the train, watching a Thanksgiving parade, staring pensively at their dining room table, or kissing on the side of a street. Entirely self-taught, Heath stretches the boundaries of the medium and explores the potential of the photo-narrative—through handmade book maquettes, innovative multimedia slide presentations, and other photographic experimentations.
Publication: Yale University Press, 2015
Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath
This is the first comprehensive survey of Heath’s deeply personal work, focusing on his astounding contributions to black-and-white photography. These images span the first 20 years of his career, 1949 to 1969, and many of them are previously unpublished. Filling a major gap in scholarship, the catalogue surveys the most groundbreaking facets of Heath’s creative work and highlights its historical importance. Heath’s art is ripe for rediscovery, and this book reaffirms his status as a key figure in 20th-century American photography.
Keith F. Davis is senior curator of photography at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Michael Torosian is an artist, author, and owner of Lumiere Press, Toronto.