50 For 50: David Alan Harvey

Author: Sandra Davidson

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. 

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



Black and white image of a young boy skateboarding
USA. Norfolk, VA. 1966. Skateboarding. From the series Tell It Like It Is.
A black and white photo of a young girl named Lois standing on a porch
USA. Norfolk, VA. 1966. Lois. From the series Tell It Like It Is


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.



A young boy leaning out of a car window
Cuba. Camaguey. 1988. A 9 year old boy in a 1953 Chevrolet.
A white horse standing on a porch
A woman on the beach holding a yellow ball and popsicle ice cream
Brazil. Rio de Janeiro. 2011. Candy Beach Ball on Ipanema.
Two people in gold outfits in front of gold wall
Brazil. Rio de Janeiro. 2011. Silver Girls at Carnaval.



A diver holding up an octopus
South Korea. Jeju Island. 2014. No sooner had the group of Haenyeo I was diving with entered the water when one of them snatched an octopus from its hiding place under a rock. Commissioned by the Korean Arts Council.




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!!


Beach with pier and people walking with surfboards
USA. Kill Devil Hills, NC. 2010. A couple packs up after a day of summer surfing near the Avalon Pier. The biggest swells won't arrive until fall. Since the '60s when surfing made its way here, the sport has steadily become embedded in OBX culture.
Boy on boat with fishing pole, wind blowing his hair back and choppy ocean water.
USA. Nags Head, NC. 2008.

 "Do you need a fish that bad?" I shouted at this boy as he repeatedly cast a line into the heaving sea. "Do you need a photo that bad?" He shouted back. We agreed we were both crazy for being out on the pier during a nor'easter.

A dog running and jumping on the beach
USA. Nags Head, NC. 2008. Beach dog runs.
Family at Nags Head North Carolina watching a storm begin
USA. Nags Head, NC. 2010. My neighbors Billy and Sandra Stinson watch a squall roll over the house on Roanoke Sound. Hurricane Irene destroyed the place last August.

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