Dave Heath had a turbulent childhood. Abandoned by his parents at the age of four, he was consigned to foster homes and an orphanage by age 15. He took up photography in 1947. Although Heath was largely self-taught, in 1959 he attended two workshops conducted by W. Eugene Smith. Influenced by Smith’s dark pallet, Heath’s work was also dark, imbued with themes of isolation and yearning for personal connection. By 1965 Heath came to prominence with the exhibition and book, “A Dialogue With Solitude”. But eventually he fell out of the public eye.
Michael Torosian, a friend of Heath’s and a publisher of exquisite hand-crafted photography books (Lumiere Press), made it his mission to revive public interest in Heath. Torosian’s intent was to re issue A Dialogue With Solitude but in doing so Torosian was faced with a dilemma. The original edition was a commercially manufactured trade book – the exact the opposite of the highly crafted titles from his private press. The answer… to present the book with a signed photogravure, a medium perfectly suited to the work. According to Torosian, “Photogravure is one of the most opulent methods of photomechanical reproduction ever devised and possesses an enduring mystique.”
How involved was Heath in the production of the project? “I always made sure he was hands off…it was a mercy to him really. He agonized over everything. It was an impediment in his life.” Torosian reviewed and approved the proofs and worked with Jon Goodman to execute the photogravure editions. “Dave didn’t see them until he came over to sign them. I think he was pleased, but he was not a person to ever express any particular delight in anything. His default mode was being morose.”
Heath’s work was pivotal in depicting the fractured feeling of societal unease just prior to the rise of the civil rights. His sensitive exploration of loss, pain, love and hope, successfully translated here into the photogravure syntax, affirms Heath’s place as one the most original photographers of his generation.
You can read more about this story in Torosian’s upcoming book Lumiere Press: Printer Savant & Other Stories.