Geographic Photographer on Latin America's "Divided Soul"

Jonathan Haeber
National Geographic News
August 13, 2003

View a photo gallery of images from David Alan Harvey's new book, Divided Soul >>

For much of his career, David Alan Harvey, a National Geographic staff photographer from 1978 to 1986, has trained his lens on the Hispanic world. He's traveled and photographed extensively in Spain, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and nearly every other country in the Latin American Diaspora. Various assignments have also brought Harvey to Southeast Asia, Germany, France, and Italy, among other places. His work has appeared in a wide array of publications, including National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Life, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated.

Harvey received the National Press Photographer Association's Magazine Photographer of the Year award in 1978 and joined the prestigious Magnum co-operative in 1997.

National Geographic News recently spoke with Harvey about his new book, Divided Soul. Published by Phaidon Press, Divided Soul highlights the colorful and lyrical world of Latin America, Portugal, and Spain.

What's the origin of the book's title, Divided Soul?

The book was completely my project, all the way through—the design, the layout, and the sequencing of the photographs. The title of the book, Divided Soul, came from a little book called Journey to the Alcarria, by Camilo José Cela. He talked about the divided soul of the Spanish spirit. So when I read his little book, and I read that little phrase in his book, I knew—15 years ago—that was going to be my title.

You mention the influence of the Spanish writer Cela on your work. In what way?

Cela was a great influence on me because of the way he looked at things. In other words, he obviously used words to communicate a visual experience. He described the way light played on the wall—cowbells jingling, children giggling, laughing—that sort of thing. I just like the way that Cela took an ordinary subject, an everyday event, and made it really interesting with words. So he became a real visual storyteller for me. Words and pictures do very different things from each other. But very often I'm inspired more by words than photographs.

You mention in your book a moment while taking pictures in a town in Spain that was particularly emotional. Is that common?

I think that being emotional is part of being a photographer. I think if you're going to be a photographer who really communicates with readers—as in the case of, say, a magazine or a book, or whether you're communicating with viewers of photographs in a slide show or exhibit, which is a different experience—I think that any photographer who is really in touch with himself or herself is going to produce more compelling photographs.

The cover of your book shows an image of a Maya man in a Protestant church in Mexico. Was there controversy in some of the other possible cover choices?

There was no controversy in picking the cover. There may have been a lot of thinking about it, because we had four or five different covers that we were looking at. And finally, this one became the cover. It coincidentally is the oldest picture in the book. I shot that photograph of the old man in the Protestant church, I think in 1975. So by sheer coincidence it became the oldest photograph. But that was just a pleasant surprise really; I liked it because of that. We just picked it because, like a lot of the photographs in the book, the cover photograph asks a question. And I think—I'm very often thought of as being a journalist—but I think, in this particular book, there is more of the art side of me that comes out. Even though there are some questions answered, there are more questions raised. I like the ambiguity of that photograph.

Continued on Next Page >>




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