In 2022, over 57% of the world’s population lived in urban environments, amounting to approximately 4.5 billion individuals. Yet, for city inhabitants often surrounded by hundreds of thousands or millions of other individuals, the prevalence of social isolation continues to increase. This disconnect – the state of feeling separated from others, either physically or emotionally – results in loneliness, which is increased by up to 38% in overcrowded environments. With the urban population estimated to reach 6 billion by 2045, its likely that this feeling of solitude – of being “alone in a crowd” – will persist.
As such, city-dwellers may resonate with the photographic works of Dave Heath (1913-2016), now on show in Alone, Together at Galerie Miranda, Paris. The self-taught photographer focused on American city street life in the 1950s-1960s, documenting candid, intimate moments between individuals and groups. Over 50 years on, these images still epitomise a sense of urban isolation and yearning for connection, whilst providing a counterpoint of joy – a glimmer of light against the backdrop of alienation.
Washington Square, NYC (1959), for example, captures two teens in a moment of embrace: an arm slung over the other’s shoulder, hands encased in a gesture of closeness. There is tenderness in their physical proximity, yet longing permeates as they gaze beyond the frame. Another depicts a man stood alone, smoking, his trench coat a dark silhouette against the Cartier building. Here, the camera becomes Heath’s sole interaction such lone figures – a symbol of connection between two strangers. In Jennine Pommy Vega (1959), for example, a woman sits in a café, cigarette clutched in one hand, coffee on the table to her right. Her gaze is down, and soft light strobes her cheek. There’s a melancholic tone throughout all the images in Alone, Together – even in moments of apparent contentment and composure.
These black-and-white stills drove the artist to prominence in 1963 with the exhibition A Dialogue with Solitude. A book of the same name, published two years later, arranged these shots into a cohesive arc. As Heath stated: “It is in my sequencing of photographs that I create poetic structure, a connective linkage, not chronological or narrative in development such as a photo-essay, but emotional in development.” The resulting collection is a powerful commentary on the isolation and anonymity of post-war America.
Galerie Miranda recognises the importance of narrative; this is evidenced in the retrospective’s careful curation. It focuses on the artist’s most renowned, tightly-cropped portraits, which are contrasted across the gallery’s white-wash walls. A further juxtaposition comes with the small selection of Arne Svenson’s (b. 1952) A Beautiful Day, which is tucked into a corner of gallery. These colour images focus on unaware New Yorkers during the Covid-19 lockdowns – a time of widespread alienation and isolation.
Svenson’s contemporary street photographs are a celebration of resilience and spirit, offering a pop of vibrancy against the dark tones of Heath’s work. Despite the seven decades of separation, there is a sense of unity in the the two approaches: a desire to capture authentic lived experiences and the complexities of urban living. What’s clear is that, as the world continues to change, Heath’s photography remains timeless.
galeriemiranda.com | Until 6 May
Words: Megan Jones
1. Dave Heath, New York City, c. 1960. Vintage gelatin silver print (c. 1962). 5 x 6 inch (12.70 x 15.24 cm) image. 8 x 10 inch (20.32 x 25.40 cm) paper. Titled, dated, and annotated, in pencil, au verso. © Dave Heath / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery & Howard Greenberg Gallery.
2. Dave Heath, Washington Square, New York City, 1960. Vintage gelatin silver print (1960). 8 x 10 inch (20.32 x 25.40 cm) paper. Signed, titled and dated, in pencil, au verso. © Dave Heath / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery & Howard Greenberg Gallery.
3. Dave Heath, Washington Square, New York City, c. 1960. Vintage gelatin silver print (c. 1960) mounted to period board. 7 x 9 3⁄4 inch (17.78 x 24.77 cm) print. 11 x 14 inch (27.94 x 35.56 cm) board. Signed, titled, and dated, in pencil, au verso. © Dave Heath / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery & Howard Greenberg Gallery.
4. Dave Heath, New York City (MoMA), April 1966. Vintage gelatin silver print. 4 3⁄4 x 7 inch (12.07 x 17.78 cm) image. 5 x 8 inch (12.70 x 20.32 cm) paper. Printed in August, 1966. Titled and dated, with artist and proof print stamps, in ink, au verso. © Dave Heath / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery & Howard Greenberg Gallery.