David Alan Harvey is a nationally-renowned photographer who splits his time between Nags Head and New York City. Raised in Virginia, Harvey started taking pictures in 1956. Tell It Like It Is, his first book of photographs, was published in 1966, and in 1978, the National Press Photographers Association named him Magazine Photographer of the Year. Harvey's produced 40 essays for National Geographic magazine, and his work has been featured at the Museum of Modern Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. He's traveled the world as a photographer, but calls North Carolina home.
Images by David Alan Harvey | Interview by Sandra Davidson
When did you first connect with photography?
I connected with photography when I was hospitalized with polio at age 6. Both writing and photography [became] my escape. In the hospital I made an album of pictures I cut out from magazines. I did not start shooting my own pictures until I was 12. From that time on, I was full on.
While in grad school I went to live with a family in Norfolk, Virginia. Slept on their sofa, set up a darkroom nearby. The “contribution $2.” went to a local church and intended to pay for food and clothing for disadvantaged families in this neighborhood. This was my first full blown essay and my first time being totally absorbed by a culture outside my own. This first essay/book was a precursor to all that followed with my work
Why did you pursue photography, and what work are you most proud of?
I never cared whether it was feasible or not. Still don't. I was on it with a passion, and that was that. Photography has brought me my primary education. A world view. Not tourist travel, but full on immersion into a variety of cultures.
My work in Latin America has the most depth. Books on Cuba and Divided Soul and Based on a True Story all reflect some of this work.
What is your elevator pitch for why art matters?
Art is the only thing that lasts over time. Art comes at the pinnacle of civilizations. As human beings, we need food, shelter, clothing, and art.
Why did you land in North Carolina?
When I lived in Virginia Beach in high school, we thought the Outer Banks were ours!! I would drive down the beach at low tide all the way to Nags Head from Virginia Beach. Later our family vacationed here for many years. I did two stories for NatGeo on the Outer Banks. I shoot here now everyday [and] rarely going to my New York studio. I AM HOME!!