Heath’s psychologically charged images both reflect and respond to the alienation particularly prevalent in post war North American society. He was one of the first of a new generation of artists seeking new ways to try and make sense of the increasing sense of isolation and vulnerability that typified the age.
Predominantly self-taught, Heath was nonetheless extremely informed and versed in the craft, theory and history of photography and taught extensively throughout his life. Although greatly influenced by W. Eugene Smith and the photographers of the Chicago School, including Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, Heath cannot be neatly pigeonholed as either a documentary or experimental photographer. His work feels more at home within a narrative or poetic tradition, where an interior reality takes precedence.
Taking his masterwork and first publication, A Dialogue With Solitude, as a point of departure, this exhibition highlights Heath’s preoccupations with solitude and contemplation and further makes explicit the importance of sequencing in his practice. Heath was clear that “the central issue of my work is sequence” and held the belief that the relativity and rhythm of images offered a truer way of conveying a universal psychological state than a single image. He perfected a form of montage, often blending text and image to create visual poems, which captured the mood of the decade in a manner akin to a photographic protest song.
Heath’s photographs are shown in dialogue with cult American films from the 1960s similarly focused on themes of solitude and alienation. These include: Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke (1966); Salesman by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Mitchell Zwerin (1968); and The Savage Eye by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers and Joseph Strick (1960).