Category Archives: 15. David Alan Harvey seminar

David Alan Harvey Seminar

David Allan Harvey Talk


As part of the GPP 2014 programme of events, Magnum photographer, David Alan Harvey was in Dubai to share his knowledge and experience. I was lucky enough to attend an event, alongside 300 other people, where Harvey was speaking about his work.


David Allan Harvey began photographing at a young age, having bought his first camera when he was 12. Harvey career has led him to contribute over 40 feature stories to National Geographic Magazine, found Burn Magazine and in 1997 become a full member of Magnum photos.


Harvey began by speaking about how his career in photography came to be.  As a young boy he began photographing his family and neighborhood. He said that initially this was not a conscious decision, simply what was available to him. Harvey stressed that you must ‘incorporate photography into your life’. From this point his interest in family, culture and humanity developed.

When he was 20 years old, Harvey lived with and documented the lives of a black family living in Norfolk, Virginia. These photographs were published in 1966, in his book ‘Tell It Like It Is’. The title, he said, is a reference to photography that observes and interprets life. One of his well-known quotes is:

‘Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like’.

Harvey notes that among his major influences were Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), a founding Magnum member, and Robert Frank (1924-). Both photographers who are known for their documentary approach, both with very individual styles. However, he also gains inspiration from literature, history and art.

Like Cartier-Bresson, Harvey likes to use minimal equipment. He usually opts to use just one fast lens and available light. He aims to be ‘an invisible photographer’, emerging himself in a scene to become an insider. He presented his typical kit to the audience, his camera, casually slung over one shoulder and a sport-type backpack across the other. He also said that he often uses his i-phone camera as this then can connect him quickly to the Internet.

Harvey also confessed that he does not use Photoshop or any other post-processing tool to edit his work. “I don’t have a problem with Photoshop”, he said, “I just don’t know how to use it”. He believes that the technical route he took into photography, he learned film, worked in a studio as a teenager, learnt the Zone System etc., has helped negate the need for post-processing.

Harvey wants his photographs to tell a story. He likes to have a lot going on in his images with the elements juxtaposed in certain ways. He advocates that when using pictures to convey a narrative it is important to print out the images and physically move them around when experimenting with layouts. He notes that no computer programme is a substitute for this and that top magazine editors still use this system to this day.

Harvey talked us through two slide shows of his work. The first showing a range of work spanning his career and the second featuring photographs from his ‘Divided Soul’ projects. ‘The Divided Soul’ projects are based on his extensive work on the Spanish cultural migration to the Americas. He notes that he feels drawn to Spanish culture and that he has undertaken much research to gain more insight. His research concerned, although not limited to history, literature, customs, religion and music. He notes that this helps him to prepare for shooting as he then with highlight keywords that he wants to focus on. This sounded, to me, like Harvey’s version of a Picture Script.


I found this talk both interesting and inspiring. Harvey comes across as being a very humble man who loves what he does. The glimpses of his life and work experience that he shared sounded fascinating. From being in Vietnam as an American at a time when Americans were considered the enemy to racing across the Dubai desert, camera at hand, with Emirati royalty.

I attended this seminar only a day after hearing Joe McNally speak and found it interesting to note their very different, but equally impressive, approaches to photography. While McNally was illustrating the use of hot shoe and off-camera lighting, Harvey talked of working with one camera, one lens and available light. It did make me think that perhaps it is too easy to be overly concerned with equipment and gadgets and that by doing so you could miss some amazing photo opportunities.

More information on David Alan Harvey’s work can be found at

Harvey is also the Publisher/Editor of Burn magazine, an online magazine/journal that aims to provide a platform for emerging photographers both online and in print.