Rochester, New York, 1958
Rochester, New York, 1958

A few Saturdays ago, I wanted to get out of my apartment, and I also wanted a reason to make myself look presentable to the world. So, I got dolled-up in my best gallery-visiting attire, painted on my favorite red lipstick, and went to see an exhibit called Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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An Instagram snap of my favorite photo from the exhibit: Central Park, New York City, 1958

The exhibit is made up of my favorite kind of portrait photography: candids shot on the street. Some photographs feature individuals, others, large crowds, but all are incredibly poignant. Heath’s work captures the eerie sense of solitude that can exist on a bustling city sidewalk or in a crowded city park. Some of his photographs capture intimate connections between individuals, but a feeling of isolation still permeates the entire collection.

Washington Square, New York City, 1960
Washington Square, New York City, 1960

I was moved by these photographs, especially as a person who has a love/hate relationship with the isolated feeling of being one lone person in a crowded city. Sometimes it makes me feel free to do as I like, and sometimes I crave interaction instead of avoidance. Then again, sometimes the interaction you crave doesn’t bring happiness, as the sibling conflict in Vengeful Sister suggests.

Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956
Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956

Many of these photographs were originally published as a photo essay entitled Multitude, Solitude. They appeared alongside Heath’s comments, and a few poems that he selected. This text was also included in the exhibit, both in the form of the original manuscript pages, and poems reproduced on the walls of the gallery. The overall effect was a sense that “solitude in the multitude” is a phenomenon experienced across the human race.

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Another Instagram snap from the exhibit. Heath chose W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” as an accompaniment to his photo essay.

So, what do you think? Am I feeding too much into the artist’s “lonely, tortured soul” thing? Or is this a phenomenon that you can relate to? If you get the chance, I recommend visiting this exhibit, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in general. Unfortunately, these photographs will only be on display through February 21st, but access to the exhibit is included in general admission. If you aren’t able to see the exhibit in person, check out the book, which includes photos and text published in the original photo essay, as well as the previously unpublished photographs that were part of this exhibit.

All non-Instagram images of Dave Heath’s photographs were retrieved from the slideshow on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s exhibit website.

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