Dave Heath’s cult reputation rests primarily on 1965’s A Dialogue With Solitude, a collection of black-and-white photographs that in retrospect looks like a counterculture Family of Man. Working under the heady influences of Robert Frank, Aaron Siskind, and Eugene Smith, Heath forged a style that felt at once intimate and reportorial, intensely personal and socially engaged. Touching on love, war, family, civil rights, and what Heath was unembarrassed to call “the human spirit,” his book tapped directly into the moment’s combustible mix of high anxiety and fragile optimism. Reissued by Toronto’s Lumiere Press in 2001 (but once again out of print), A Dialogue With Solitude is a period piece that resonates; not timeless, perhaps, but always timely.
That book incorporated several photos Heath made while serving in Korea in 1953, a year that he describes as his “defining moment” as a photographer. Now 27 of the pictures he took on and off combat duty have been brought together in Korea, an exceptionally handsome limited edition book, also from Lumiere, whose release is commemorated in this show of nine vintage prints. Inducted at 21, Heath says he went off thinking about the kind of pictures he saw in Life magazine, but what he came back with was “more like a family album.” The most arresting images here are of his fellow soldiers, both Korean and American, and they capture the almost homoerotic camaraderie of men in close quarters with remarkable tenderness. “Photography gave me a way of entering the world,” Heath tells Lumiere’s Michael Torosian in the book’s introduction. In Korea, the camera allowed him to connect soul to soul, and five decades later, the results are as tough as they are touching.