DPP Home Profiles David Alan Harvey: Master Of The True Story

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

David Alan Harvey: Master Of The True Story

David Alan Harvey is one of the leading Magnum photojournalists. His BURN Magazine brings the vision of the next generation to the attention of the world.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A foam party in Ibiza, Spain.
DPP: How did you "discover the Internet" as a venue not only for your images, but also as an opportunity to interface with the public?

Harvey: There was a guy who came into the Magnum office during one of our meetings to discuss online audiences. That's the last thing that I ever thought about. I wasn't the kind of guy who went online to look at blogs or anything, but he started describing what it took to build an audience. I had never thought about building an audience. I didn't even know that I had an audience. National Geographic and my books were out there with my pictures, but I actually had no idea who the people were that were looking at my photos. They were faceless to me. He said, "Well, you need this, this, this and this...," and I started thinking, I actually have all that stuff. I knew I had an international fan club because in spite of very minimal promotion, my workshops were always filled up, and I had students from all over the place—Korea, France, Spain, Brazil. So I started a blog called "Road Trips," and it was immediately successful. Within a few days, I had a thousand followers. I realized I did have an audience out there that had been filtered by Geographic or the book publisher. Now I'm interfacing with my audience.

DPP: How did the title BURN come about?

Harvey: We were looking at all sorts of photo-oriented words, and one of the readers of my "Road Trips" blog sent in three words, and one of them was "burn." As soon as I saw "burn," I said, "That's it!" It has an edge to it. You can turn it into a photo word because we dodge and burn in the darkroom, in the digital world you burn a CD, but mainly we liked the word. It's like burning passion or burning down the house. It's a passionate word, and it's a dangerous word.

DPP: Your books, including Divided Soul (Phaidon) and Cuba: Island at a Crossroad (National Geographic), and most recently, (based on a true story), published by BURN Books, show an unwavering fascination with the Latin world, with Spain, Portugal and Latin America being your favorite stomping grounds. They all explore the blending and battles of indigenous and European cultures. How did your attraction to these areas develop?

Harvey: It's one of those things that kind of happened by accident before it became on purpose. I've got Scotch/Irish blood, no Latin blood in me whatsoever. I had done three stories for National Geographic in my own state of Virginia. The editor walked in one day and said, "We need to get you on a foreign assignment." I was ready to roll. I wanted to see the world. He suggested, "How about the Mayans?" I was so eager to go I didn't want to tell him that I didn't really know what the Mayan culture was. I just knew they were a tribe "down there" somewhere. I didn't know the difference between them and the Aztecs and the Incas. But I said, "I love the Mayans!" I went home and got every book on the Mayan culture I could get my hands on. This was before the Internet. I studied the archeology and the culture. Then I went down there with a 4x5 Linhof for photographing the pyramids and a 35mm camera for photographing the people and their culture, and I learned to speak Spanish. I didn't tell the editor that I didn't speak Spanish, and I didn't know that the Geographic had an expense account for interpreters. I worked with the archeologists there, as well, so I became a pretty good student of the culture. I became fascinated with Central America and all the indigenous tribes of the Americas. By that time, I had a pretty severe hatred for the Spanish in an abstract sort of way because all I could see was the death and destruction they had caused. Then I started thinking that the only way to turn this into something larger was to go to the source. I had to go meet these conquistadores. So I started traveling to Iberia.

DPP: Your expanding knowledge allowed you to get deeper into the subject. Depth in a photograph comes from knowledge.

Harvey: I got involved with not only Spain, Portugal and Latin America, but West Africa, as well, because the Spanish and Portuguese transported slaves to Brazil and other parts of the Americas from there.


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