Praised by photography circles, both in Canada and in the United States, yet little known to the public, street photographer Dave Heath (1931-2016) is the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath, which runs from March 14 to September 2, 2019, provides an opportunity to experience the breadth of talent of an artist considered to be one of the finest of his generation and whose work had a unique impact on photography.
Organized by Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator of Photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the exhibition highlights several decades of Dave Heath’s work, from 1949 to 1969, and the 2000s. It also sheds light on his creative process. Andrea Kunard, Associate Curator, Photographs, at the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada, enhanced the exhibition with works drawn from the collections of the Gallery, Library and Archives Canada, and the Estate of Dave Heath. The latter were produced in the 1980s and are on view in the PhotoLab exhibition space adjacent to the CPI galleries.
“Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath presents a selection of the finest prints of an artist with a totally original visual sensibility, all the while highlighting his ideas on the process,” said Keith F. Davis. “This combination provides the public with an exceptionally rich understanding of the work of Dave Heath, whose contributions to creative photography were enormous.”
The exhibition presents some 180 works that trace Dave Heath’s long and varied career: from his black and white photographs and handmade books to his multimedia slide presentations. Among the works on display is the original maquette of Heath’s best known published work: the photo book and masterpiece titled A Dialogue with Solitude, assembled between 1961 and 1963 and published in 1965. According to James Borcoman, Curator Emeritus and founder of the Gallery’s photography collection, it is the most important book produced by any photographer in the 1960s and influenced many. Heath’s first audiovisual slide show titled Beyond the Gates of Eden, 1969, also has a prominent place in the exhibition.
Divided into seven sections highlighting the key periods in Heath’s oeuvre, the exhibition brings together a large number of black and white images, including street photographs taken in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other large North American cities. Also on display are colour images taken by Heath between 2001 and 2012 using a digital camera.
An Epiphany, a presentation of colour slides made by Heath produced in 1971 occupies the PhotoLab exhibition space. The work is accompanied by three collages with the same title. Visitors will also see Heath’s Songs of Innocence, produced in 1981 using Polaroid images, and a few of his journals of collages, on loan from Library and Archives Canada.
“Throughout his career, Dave Heath creatively commented on the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition through a variety of media and image formats,“ said Andrea Kunard. “He understood the power of photography in contemporary society. His compulsive use of the medium reflects the way in which identity is constantly constructed and deconstructed by society’s insatiable appetite for images.”
The National Gallery of Canada has nearly 130 works by Dave Heath in its collection, including large portfolios of black and white photographs as well as books and works in colour. The Canadian Photography Institute collection includes several of Dave Heath’s slide productions.
In 1981, the National Gallery of Canada organized an exhibition of two major works by the artist: A Dialogue with Solitude and Songs of Innocence IV. The Gallery also displayed photographs by Dave Heath in its 2005 exhibition titled The Street. Robert Frank, Tom Gibson, Dave Heath, Michael Schreier, Robert Walker, and Justin Wonnacott.
About Dave Heath
Dave Heath was born on June 27, 1931 in Philadelphia. He was abandoned by his parents when he was four years old – an experience that marked him for the rest of his life. Heath grew up in a series of foster homes until he was 12, then was placed in an orphanage until the age of 16. It was there that he discovered photography when he saw a photo essay on a young orphan boy in Life magazine.
Heath quickly developed a passion for the medium. He taught himself the basics through reading and spending time in museums, and developed his own darkroom techniques, which produced striking black and white photographs suffused with spontaneity and emotion.
In 1953 he was drafted as a machine-gunner in the Korean war and photographed his fellow soldiers. After the war, he returned to the bustling cities to take more photos of the people who frequented them, earning the title of “street photographer”. By his early twenties, he was recognized as a prodigy. Heath won a Guggenheim Fellowship two years in a row, providing him the means to travel across the United States by bus with his camera. During his trip, he photographed the faces of people he saw in the busy streets of the large cities he visited.
In 1970 Heath moved to Toronto, where he taught photography at Ryerson University for 27 years. He continued to live in Toronto until his death in 2016, on his 85th birthday.
Throughout his career Dave Heath strove to reinvent himself by exploring a variety of formats and photographic media including multimedia collages, slides, audiovisual slide shows, the instant-print camera and the digital camera.
To learn more about of the life and work of Dave Heath, read the article titled Solitude and Connection: Dave Heath's Universal Expression by exhibition curator Keith F. Davis, now online in the NGC Magazine, and visit the exhibition page on the Gallery website.
Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath has traveled to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri before opening in Ottawa. The exhibition presented at the Gallery has been organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in association with the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada, thanks to the support of Scotiabank, Founding Partner of the CPI.
Meet the Expert: Keith F. Davis
Saturday, March 23, 2019 at 12:00 p.m., Exhibition curator Keith F. Davis, will lead a guided tour of Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath. In English with a bilingual question period. Included with admission to the Gallery.
Hours and Admission
For opening hours and admission fees, please visit gallery.ca/visit/hours-and-admission
About the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access and insight into its renowned collection of nearly 40,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and new American Indian and Egyptian galleries. To find out more, visit nelson-atkins.org.
About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art. The Gallery also maintains Canada’s premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st centuries, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. In 2015, the National Gallery of Canada established the Canadian Photography Institute, a global multidisciplinary research center dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. For more information, visit gallery.ca and follow us on Twitter @NatGalleryCan
About the Canadian Photography Institute
The Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada is a multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography in all its forms. The Institute was established in 2015 and officially launched in 2016. Its collections, which are regularly enriched with new donations, are built upon the National Gallery’s Photographs Collection, the collection of the former Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and the still photos of the National Film Board of Canada archives. Part of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Photography Institute receives unprecedented support from CPI’s Founding Partner, Scotiabank, the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) and the National Gallery of Canada Foundation. More information about the Canadian Photography Institution can be found on the Gallery’s website gallery.ca/cpi.
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