Dave Heath – The Photographer’s Gallery

Dave Heath was an American/Canadian photographer who died in 2016. Dialogues with Solitudes is based on his 1965 publication A Dialogue with Solitude, a work that examined isolation and alienation in post-war North American society, and is the first major UK exhibition of Heath’s work.

Heath had first hand experience of isoation and vulnerability having been abandoned by his parents when he was four he was brought up in orphanages and foster care. As a teenager he became interested in photography and he was fascinated by the picture stories on Life magazine with one in particular, Bad Boy’s Story by Ralph Crane, having a decisive influence on him. Heath joined the US Army as a machine-gunner, serving in Korea and it was whilst he was than he started taking pictures of his fellow soldiers. Once he returned from Korea he dedicated himself to photography working on the streets of Chicago and New York and photographing strangers who he identified as being lost or fragile.

© Dave Heath
© Dave Heath
© Dave Heath

I had not heard of Dave Heath prior to visiting the exhibition. I thought the featured prints really conveyed a sense of isolation and uncertainty and the prints themselves whilst small were beautifully printed. In the text accompanying the images it was noted that Heath was a renowned printer and took considerable pains to tone his images to get the look he wanted. In addition to prints of his work there was a layout of A Dialogue with Solitude which showed how the work was presented when first published in 1965.

I think what this exhibition taught me was that when photographing people you need to have a clear underdstanding of the message you are trying to convey to the viewer and also the need to get close so that the emotion people express through their facial expressions and how they hold themselves is clearly visible.

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