David Alan Harvey is a bundle of energy at age 72. His creativity and versatility are astounding while straddling the line between journalism and art. He seems to go in many directions at once, always focusing on new ideas and new ways to communicate. He joined Magnum as a nominee in 1993 and has been a member since 1997. He has had more than 40 stories published in National Geographic, beginning in 1973 with a piece about Tangier Island in Virginia. In 1978, he was named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association.
Harvey is popular as a lecturer and much in demand as a workshop leader. He has exhibited at Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., Nikon Gallery and Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. A graduate of William & Mary College, he also has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He started his career working for the Topeka Capitol-Journal under the tutelage of legendary photography director Rich Clarkson.
Harvey self-published his first book, Tell It Like It Is, in 1967 — the story of a black family he lived with in Norfolk, Virginia (recently reissued by BurnBooks). His other books include Cuba (National Geographic, 2000), Divided Soul (Phaidon, 2003) and Living Proof (Powerhouse, 2007). Based on a True Story was recently published by BurnBooks in a first edition of 600 copies with 15 collector’s copies in a handmade box, plus 5,000 copies as a magazine distributed for free in Brazil. Based on a True Story received the Pictures of the Year Best Book of the Year Award.
In 2008, Harvey founded the online magazine Burn (www.burnmagazine.org), featuring the work of emerging and established photographers.
We connected via SKYPE, with Harvey on the front porch of his beach house in Nags Head, North Carolina.
Ken Lassiter: What was life like when you were growing up?
David Alan Harvey: My dad was like a lot of Iowa farm boys — he went off to war. I was born in San Francisco at the exact moment Robert Capa made his historic D-Day photo of a dead American soldier on the beach in Normandy: June 6, 1944, 9 am. Our family moved often; I spent a lot of time in Virginia Beach when my Dad was stationed in Norfolk. I had polio when I was six years old. While I was in the hospital, I read books, and when I was released, I was glad to be alive. Since then, I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.
KL: What inspired your interest in photography?
DAH: When I was about 12, I was on a camping trip. I remember waking up one morning in my pup tent and looking out at the glorious scene of the lake and forest and wishing I had a way to save that view. It hit me that I needed a camera. I bought a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and a darkroom kit and began photographing my family and friends. Later, I used my newspaper money to buy a used Leica IIIF 35mm camera. Photography solved everything for me. It was a way to express myself, a way to see the outside world. It was way to show people things I was interested in and to create my art. It kept me out of trouble.