This post is a mere prelude. I'm just not ready to write at length about Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath yet. The only thing I know definitely is that this is my favorite photobook this year.
The reason I can't write about it yet is that it's so incredibly rich. I just haven't been able to digest it all yet, despite having paged lovingly through the magnificent reproductions about six times, half of those occasions in the company of spellbound friends. It's about five books in one: a lovely monograph of Heath's emotionally glowing, humane, deeply affecting best work; a long, detailed, eloquent and articulate text about this little-celebrated, under-the-radar master; a "replica" book reproducing an unpublished manqué as Heath had wanted it to appear; a full retrospective, including his beginnings, his distinct later period, and his color work; and it even—get this, APUGgers!—a section on Heath's darkroom practices and mastery as an interpretive printer, showing "straight" full frames and how they evolved into highly realized—and much more beautiful—photographs. I think it would be worth buying for any one or two of these various aspects; with all of that in one volume, it makes me want to buy three copies and sleep with one under my pillow. And put another in a safety-deposit box.
I'm going to write more about this book as the next couple of months wear past, but I needed to mention it now for anyone who might want to know what our BotY is in time for Christmas.
Whatever else it's got, this book is full of heart. Absolutely a masterpiece. Just a glorious, beautiful book, genuinely moving as well as thoroughly enjoyable. I absolutely love it.
As the saying goes: "If you buy only one book this year...."
More about this in due course. I realize you might want to hold off on a purchase decision until I write more, and I'll try to follow through. Apologies for my brevity here.
(Thanks to Keith)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Adam Weaver: "Having never heard of him, I just typed in his name to browse a few pictures, and to my surprise his 'Multiple, Solitude' exhibit is showing right now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just down the road from me. I'll definitely go take a look (by myself, as seems appropriate.)"
Mike replies: I didn't know that, thanks. I think I'll go down and see that myself, maybe in January. (The exhibit is up through February 21st.)
Kenneth Tanaka: David Heath is among many photographers mostly active in the 20th century whose horns were rarely heard for various reasons. Sometimes because their work was diffuse. Sometimes because they sought no fame or no representation. Sometimes because they were just OK.
"I think David spans the first two categories. He clearly got his work in front of the in-crowd. But perhaps he was not much of a self-promoter? I knew that my own museum (the Art Institute of Chicago) has some of his prints because one is a very locally revered portrait of Hugh Edwards, the founder of the museum's photography collection. And this little girl seems terribly familiar to me, but I didn't know it was Heath's work. Turns out we have over 30 of his prints. I don't recall seeing most of them.
"I've been trying to observe a moratorium on book buying. My library space is filled. But I will make an exception for an extraordinary tome. Exception made for this, Mike.
"Once again I applaud Keith Davis for curating such a show (which I'd love to see). I have never met him but have admired his eye for work that's been overlooked or just plain ignored. I think that museum photo curators are falling prey to the sirens of contemporary art and losing sight of what made photography unique and so strong as a medium. Davis seems always to keep his eye on the ball.
"I'll wait until I see more of Heath's work before offering more thoughts."
Richard: "Nice choice Mike. His 'Carl Dean Kipper, Korea, 1953–54' is one of the most terrific B&W photographs I've ever seen. Love it."
Mike replies: A stone masterpiece, that. Out-of-this-world good. And the amazing thing is, many pictures in the book are on the same level.
Ned: "Timing is everything. Just received a $50.00 Amazon gift card from work."
Jim Hughes: "While searching for something else, I found this quote from Dave Heath in the June, 1965, edition of Popular Photography, one of several brief interviews conducted by Harvey Shaman for a spread titled 'The Turning Point: Eight top pros tell why they chose photography.'
"Said Dave Heath: 'It was about one month before my 16th birthday when I decided to become a photographer. The catalytic agent that brought about this decision was the May 12, 1947, issue of Life containing Ralph Crane's essay, "A Bad Boy's Story." In Mr. Crane's unique visual interpretations, I found portrayed conditions similar to my own life: broken home, foster families, social withdrawal, and life in an orphanage like the one in which I was then living. In that moment of self-awareness, I discovered photography as a direct and moving form of expression.'
"In 1958, Dave, whom I later came to know, joined a number of already accomplished photographers in a unique and aptly named study group, 'Photography Made Difficult,' led by W. Eugene Smith at the New School in New York City. That Dave paid attention can clearly be seen in his deeply nuanced black-and-white prints."
[Our friend Jim was chief editor of Camera 35 and Camera Arts magazines and is the author of the definitive biography of W. Eugene Smith. —Ed.]
dave heath: "Dear Mike. Keith forwarded your response to the book. I am deeply touched by the warm and open thoughts on the work. I would much like to hear your further thoughts when you publish them. Sincerely, Dave Heath."