Dave Heath in Carleton-sur-mer


A Dialogue with Solitude

Dave Heath, d. Toronto, Ontario | bulgergallery.com

A Canadian photographer of American origin, Dave Heath (1931-2016) ranks with the most influential photographers of his generation. An explorer of the human condition (W. Eugene Smith was his mentor), he captures his characters in the streets, seeking to get as close as possible to their deepest feelings. The 30 or so images that Rencontres has the privilege of presenting are excerpted from his book A Dialogue with Solitude, published in 1965. A cult work, one that can be compared to an author’s book – a practice still marginal at that time, apart from Robert Franck’s influential work The Americans.

In A Dialogue with Solitude, the characters are caught in the streets of big American cities during the 1950s and ‘60s. The subjects are from Afro-American communities, from the New York counter culture with known figures of the Beat Generation, from places where social inequalities are rampant, or are also the photographer’s comrades-in-arms in Korea. But to a certain extent, the settings are almost secondary here. Tight framing, close-ups on individuals and faces, black density, high contrast and a decrease in the depth of field tend to obscure any textual reference. Heath has rather sought to make visible the overall portrait of a dark America through the expression of faces, these embodying with a certain gravity the climate of isolation and vulnerability characteristic of postwar U.S. society. In that regard, his exploration of technical processes (he was a master of the darkroom) contributed to accentuating the dramatic tension of the works, while imbuing them with a melancholic and poetic aura.

Despite the strong emotional charge instilled by the affective closeness between the photographer and his subjects, the latter remain entrenched in their anonymity, distant, as though detached from their environment, in suspended time. It is perhaps to his own loneliness that Dave Heath, abandoned by his parents at the age of four, takes us by way of the other. A mirror effect of a personal introspection that, with great modesty, he holds back from revealing to us.
Mona Hakim

Dave Heath is represented by the Stephen Bulger and Howard Greenberg galleries

Exhibition at Rencontres

A Dialogue with Solitude

By the age of four Dave Heath 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. At this early age, Heath knew that he wanted to be an artist, seeing artistic practice as the best way to experience the world, and he came to define himself within it.

Heath began photographing during the late 1940s. He briefly studied art at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Institute of Design in Chicago, supporting himself as an assistant to commercial photographers. By 1959 Heath was in New York, where he studied with the ground-breaking photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. His subsequent work was highly influenced by Smith’s humanistic tone and emphasis on the photographic narrative.

His photographs are represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the International Museum of Photography, New York; the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York; The Getty, Los Angeles; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among other institutions.