Dave Heath: Alone, together

For its spring 2023 programme, Galerie Miranda is delighted to present an exhibition of vintage photographs by Dave Heath (1931-2016, US/Canada), the first European gallery exhibition of Dave Heath’s work. Entitled ‘Alone, together’, the exhibition at Galerie Miranda presents emblematic works that express Heath’s central themes of loneliness and alienation in modern society. Influenced by W. Eugene Smith, in whose workshops he participated, as well as the photographers of the Chicago School including Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, Dave Heath worked mainly on the streets while living in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, seeking to capture the fractures and growing unease in booming American post-war society, prior to the rise of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.
His seminal publication A Dialogue with Solitude was conceived in 1961 and finally published in 1965 after difficulty in finding a publisher, then reprinted in 2000 with a preface by Robert Frank. The book stunned with its emotional potency, thanks to Heath’s sensitive translation of an intimate experience of the world, something lived and felt: tension in the city streets, between the constrained proximity of bodies and the isolation of individuals in the crowd, who fill his frame with their ‘absent presence’. Heath photographed strangers of all class and generation; riding the train, watching other passers by or just staring pensively into the distance, lost in thought. In his own words, Heath “endeavoured to convey not a sense of futility and despair, but an acceptance of life’s tragic aspects.” He also captured glimmers of joy and tenderness that intersect the series like brilliant rays of sunshine.
Primarily self-taught, Dave Heath made his first living as a photography assistant in commercial studios and earned acclaim as a darkroom printer: first while living in Chicago, beginning in 1955, then in New York City, by 1957, where he lived until the mid-1960s before embarking on a teaching career. After 1968, Dave Heath stopped working with B&W photography and devoted his time to teaching (in particular at Ryerson University Toronto – now Toronto Metropolitan University) in Canada, where he later became a citizen and died in 2016. The selection at Galerie Miranda focuses on Heath’s tightly cropped portraits and duo compositions, with signature highly contrasted vintage artist prints, all made between 1959 and 1966. Exhibition organised in friendly collaboration with Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

A portrait of Dave Heath by Kendall Townend

About the Author

(b.1931, Philadelphia, USA – d. 2016, Toronto, Canada)
Abandoned by his parents at a young age, Dave Heath lived until his teens in a series of foster homes and, finally, an orphanage. Without family, he was nonetheless raised in the Jewish tradition, according to his mother’s origins, which provided him with a sense of community in an otherwise lonely childhood. Early on, Heath decided that being an artist would be the best way to experience and define his place within the world.
In May 1947, Heath came across Ralph Crane’s photo-essay in LIFE Magazine called “Bad Boy’s Life”. Struck by the emotional power contained within the images, Heath decided that he wanted to become a photographer and, using the orphanage’s darkroom, he began to explore the photographic process. Unable, for administrative reasons, to enrol in a technical school, he dropped out of high school and became a darkroom printer at a commercial laboratory. A book by John Whiting called Photography is a Language guided him through the technical aspect of the medium but it was Heath’s passionate personal study of history, art and the role of artists that structured his vision.
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 assistant to commercial photographers. By 1959, Heath was in New York where he attended workshops hosted by celebrated photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. Heath’s subsequent work was highly influenced by Smith’s humanistic tone and emphasis on the photographic narrative. As a street photographer, Heath observed passers-by to capture moments of intense private reflection in the solitude of public space, his compositions typically tightly framed and charged with emotion. Early on, he understood the capacity of a sequence of photographs to evoke the complexity of his story, versus that of a single image, and at the age of 21 he composed his first maquette, named ‘3’. In the following years, Heath worked his photographs into elaborate sequences, culminating in 1961’s A Dialogue With Solitude, published in 1965. A moving series of black and white images addressing contemporary isolation, A Dialogue With Solitude was exhibited in 1963 at the Art Institute of Chicago and at George Eastman House. The series brought recognition to Dave Heath who was subsequently award bited in 1963 at the Art Institute of Chicago and at George Eastman House. The series brought recognition to Dave Heath who was subsequently awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships.
In the 1970s, after moving to Toronto, Heath began experimenting with Polaroid technology and produced a series of narrative works under the title “Songs of Innocence”. In addition, Heath mounted thematic slide presentations using vernacular photographs, including “Le Grand album ordinaire” (1973) and “Ars Moriendi” (1980). In 1981 the National Gallery of Canada mounted an exhibition of the two series “A Dialogue with Solitude and Songs of Innocence IV”. From 1970 until 1997, Heath taught photography at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson University). Dave Heath died in Toronto on his 85th birthday in 2016. Dave Heath has been exhibited across the United States and Canada including group and solo exhibitions at NelsonAtkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; San Francisco Camerawork, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York; Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto; and Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa. His photographs are represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; International Museum of Photography, New York; George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; The Getty, Los Angeles; Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; among other institutions.

Dave Heath – Alone, together
2 March – 6 May 2023
Galerie Miranda – Paris – France

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