Visiting mentor Dave Heath

Photo by Dave Heath, from A Dialogue With Solitude, published 1965

An e-mail went out to a short list of Dave Heath’s friends last week explaining that he’d been hospitalized after a fall at home. Dave was a photography teacher at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto from 1970 to 1996, and he was legendary one so I imagine that most of the names on this list were his former students.

I sought him out as my Fourth Year advisor at Ryerson. I had spent my previous three years arguing with my professors but with Dave there would be no fuss – he was the master and I was the student. I don’t think that he said one pointedly positive thing about my work while I studied under him – but I understood that his attention in and of itself was a show of support.

It was surprising and validating that an accomplished photographer with a linage of Robert Frank (his mentor and friend) and Eugene Smith (his teacher) should take the time to push a celebrity portraitist to do better, and more meaningful work.

Coincidentally I arrived in Toronto to shoot an ad job a few days after he was hospitalized and I got a chance to visit him. Although he overtly encouraged an informality he couldn’t help but be a man of an earlier era, dressed presentably, hair combed, and a well-trimmed beard. I think that I must have arrived on one of his first truly good days since the ailment; he was playful, positive and pleased to have a visitor. But attention had not been brought to his grooming and frankly, it was impressive. With his white hair tousled and on end, and his beard growing in wildly he recalls a King Lear ready to pronounce his wishes upon his kingdom!

Dave Heath, in the hospital elevator mirror. Photograph by Lesley Walker-Fitzpatrick

After I arrived in back in New York another friend of his send me along a shot that she took of him in an elevator mirror a day or two later, so I’ll post it here. Get well soon Dave!

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3 Responses to Visiting mentor Dave Heath

  1. Pingback: 21st Year in New York | Chris Buck News

  2. Chris
    You were fortunate to have studied with such a great photographer! His “Dialogue with Solitude” is one my favorites in my cherished collection of photobooks.
    Keep up the great work!

  3. Zoë G says:

    Just came across this as I looked for news of Dave Heath. I interviewed him once and during that interview he photographed me. Learned more about photography in that hour than entire classes in j-school. You are fortunate to have studied under him.

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