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David Heath’s portraits from 1950s Washington Square New York published for first time

All images from the series Washington Square © Dave Heath, courtesy Stanley/Barker

In the late 50’s, New York’s Washington Square was nicknamed junkie row. The late Dave Heath, an orphan and veteran of the Korean war, photographed the people who lurked there. The series has been published for the first time by Stanley/Barker.

The square on the edge of Greenwich Village, one of the most expensive areas of real estate anywhere in the world, and just a blocks from New York’s financial district, was described by Simone de Beauvoir as “a cosmopolitan chorus of tourists, ‘intellectuals’, students and a dubious collection of beatniks, hippies and bohemians who gather while in the dimly lit night clubs and coffee houses, blues and folk singers perform.”

As a young man, Heath created deeply expressive portraits of the young people who populated the square, as well as venturing into the 7 Arts Coffee Gallery, where the infamous Beat poets: Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac – who also appear in the book – spent their nights giving readings of their latest works.

Ginsberg’s influential poem Howl is included as an introduction to the book.

The book was conceived shortly before Heath sadly passed away in 2016 on his 85th birthday.

Dave Heath, born in 1931, draws from his own personal experiences as an orphan and as an American combat soldier in the Korean War.

He briefly studied art at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Institute of Design in Chicago, supporting himself as an assistant to commercial photographers.

By 1959, Heath was in New York where he studied with the ground-breaking photojournalist W. Eugene Smith.

Heath first came to prominence with the 1963 exhibition (and 1965 publication) A Dialogue with Solitude, a moving series of black and white images addressing what he described as “contemporary isolation”.

In the 1970s, after moving to Toronto, Heath began experimenting with Polaroid technology and produced a series of narrative works under the title Songs of Innocence.

As part of this work, Heath mounted several thematic slide presentations using vernacular photographs including Le Grand album ordinaire (1973) and Ars Moriendi (1980).

In 1981, the National Gallery of Canada mounted an exhibition of the two series, A Dialogue with Solitudeand Songs of Innocence IV.

His photographs are represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House (Rochester, NY), and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.

From 1970 until 1997, Heath taught photography at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto. Since 2001, Heath has been producing digital color work, a selection of which was published in his book, Dave Heath’s Art Show, in 2007.

Washington Square is available to buy now from Stanley/Barker. More information is available here.

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