Photographs by David Alan Harvey
Book Design by Bryan Harvey
Review by April Alvarez
There is more than one way to read (based on a true story).
There is more than one way to create (based on a true story), too, one that comes in a book, inside a slipcase, inside a box ready to spill out and be discovered. Versions of the famous tiled mosaic abstract walkway of Copacabana, which you’ll see later on a bikini top, are reproduced on both the slipcover and the box, as if to say, walk this way.
When you do, you find that David Alan Harvey has accomplished something that writers have been itching to do for a decade or more but have not accomplished – he has broken down the last wall, taken us to the place where he has been, where he still is, as the creator, the photographer, and, most importantly, as the editor.
David was once in Carlos Fuentes’ apartment in Mexico, his pictures spread out on the floor for what would become his photo book Divided Soul. That is where he has taken us in this box – to Carlos Fuentes’ apartment, he has pulled you into the long conversational afternoon where it’s all out in front of you, everything you’ve been a part of, that’s been a part of you, and figured out a really elegant way to make it into a moveable narrative.
You open the box, and there is the book, about 8 x 10 inches, inside a slipcover. You pull it out of the slipcover, and what happens when you open it is that you can look at the images as a book or loosen the blue string holding it together and pull out the images like posters. Kept in place, back to back, one half of one image is on the same fold with the right hand half of another image, and back to back they go until the center where two silver children, alike but different, mismatched twins in a dusk universe, stand at each other at the edge of one frame, then you keep flipping through to see how the switched images keep coming. If you want a little guidance, there is a map to show this configuration, again with the silver twins taking center. One picture seems to complete another.
Alternatively all the images can be slipped out of the cover and viewed individually, or as I like it, side by side as full images, each about 9 x 14 inches, starting with the delightful contact sheet like page of beachgoers. Instantly the dualism of candy and guns, sex and religions, myth and games emerges. Sex as play and sex as work, wealth and power, public and private, absurdity and danger. The pictures side by side mirror each other, make themselves twins of graphic design, color, and subject. Are the images alike or maddeningly divergent? If you peel one back, what emerges? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
(based on a true story) excises all the things that constrain communication - the architecture of narrative, the underpinnings of grammar - by getting rid of binding, framing, sequencing, and numbers, and sees the order in the chaos. And it’s really, really beautiful, staggering in fact.
It begins in the cells of this creation. For a person who is the center of everything David watches the edges. He understands he can’t control what happens in the frame, only that which IS the frame. This is someone willing to let go to get to this place as a photographer, as a storyteller who experiences all the things of the world simultaneously. That is what he communicates to us in these images: I can see it all, all at once, and the less mediation I have, the better this will work. His success of leaving off as observer and inhabiting his images with the people in them is what brings him to find a book structure that reflects that ecstatic existence. He brings you into the mise en abyme – the endless repetitions of image and life, mirror into mirror. He takes you down low and very close, and for everything he sees he knows there exists something on the other end of the spectrum. He owns his color; he lives the light. He moves with confidence in this centrifuge of life.
Authenticity keeps the voyeuristic tone from being degrading. You can choose to move through the space of this book sans judgement. Each situation is toned by another previous or following, and you accumulate insight as we move from image to image. Why can you look at pictures that David takes of women in almost every state of dress and undress and almost never feel that they are objectified? Maybe because he always shoots with their voice in the frame.
With the constraints of binding and edges and narrative diminished, you can navigate our own order, and not just once but many times. You have a paper oroboros, the snake eating its own tail, ever creating itself, a mystery. "A photograph is a secret about a secret," Diane Arbus observed. "The more it tells you the less you know." The less David tells us, the more we know.
Buy the book here.