Skip to main content

Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967 (negative); 1968 (print) Dave Heath, Canadian, born United States, 1931 Gelatin silver print, 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 inches (18.1 x 26.7 cm) The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2011.67.23


Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath

September 19, 2015–February 21, 2016

Experience Dave Heath's bittersweet vision of modern life in his powerful photographs of loss and hope.

From a crowd gathered in Central Park to solitary figures lost in thought, Dave Heath's images conjure feelings of alienation and a desire for human connection. Multitude, Solitude highlights the photographer's black-and-white pictures of the 1950s and 1960s, an intense period of self-discovery and innovation for the artist. During these pivotal years, Heath developed groundbreaking approaches to narrative and image sequence, producing exquisite individual prints, handmade book maquettes, his poetic masterwork, A Dialogue with Solitude, and multimedia slide presentations. His sensitive explorations of loss, pain, love, and hope reveal Heath to be one of the most original photographers of those decades.

This exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of Heath's deeply personal early work. Abandoned by both his parents by the age of four, Heath lived in Philadelphia foster homes and in an orphanage until the age of sixteen. The turmoil of his childhood profoundly shaped Heath and his artistic vision. Just before his sixteenth birthday, he encountered a poignant photo-essay about foster care in Life magazine, and became intrigued by photography's potential to transcend simple reportage. Almost entirely self-taught, Heath channeled his feelings of abandonment into a body of work that underscores the importance and difficulties of human contact and interaction. Multitude, Solitude reaffirms Heath's status as a key figure in twentieth-century photography and highlights his deeply empathetic sensibility.

Main Building

About the Artist

Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Dave Heath became interested in photography as a teenager. In the following years he trained himself in the craft, taking courses in commercial art, working in a photo-processing lab, and studying paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While stationed in Korea with the US Army, he photographed his fellow soldiers, creating images that are at once candid and subdued. In 1957 Heath moved to New York City and established himself as a major artistic talent.

Heath taught at the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio, and Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, before moving in 1970 to Toronto, where he headed the photography program at Ryerson University for many years. His work is in the collections of leading museums, including The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Heath’s major monograph, A Dialogue with Solitude, was published in 1965 and reprinted in 2000. His work has been included in important historical studies and surveys, such as Robert M. Doty’s Photography in America (1974); John Szarkowski’s Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 (1978); James Borcoman’s Magicians of Light: Photographs from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada (1993); and Keith F. Davis’s An American Century: From Dry-Plate to Digital (1999).


Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath has been organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.


In Philadelphia, this exhibition is made possible by The Harriet and Ronald Lassin Fund for Special Exhibitions.


Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

Check out other exhibitions

View full calendar