Through September 2, the National Gallery of Canada’s Canadian Photography Institute is featuring the street photography of Dave Heath. Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of David Heath is a travelling exhibition that focuses on his interest in the human condition, his mastery of the photographic print, and his expert use of photographic sequencing and series. This exhibition presents around 180 of Heath’s works—the largest exhibition of his work to date, covering from 1949 to 1969 and the 2000s. Visitors will be able to see his black-and-white images, slide presentations, Polaroids, journals of collages, digital colour photos, and handmade books.
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.