David Alan Harvey, Curator of Burn Magazine
by Adriana Teresa
Photo by Dmitry Markov
David Alan Harvey: Burn is primarily set up as a venue for emerging photographers. Photographers, who want to make a mark, but are still relatively unknown so, we rely on submissions from these photographers. At the same time we publish from time to time the work of iconic photographers as well—i.e. Roger Ballen, Alex Webb, James Nachtwey, Alessandra Sanguinetti, amongst others—as a stimulus for these emerging photographers. These iconic photographers often join in on the blog aspect of Burn and answer questions from our audience…Burn was born as an extension of the mentoring I have done with young photographers my whole career with workshops and just spending a good part of my life reviewing the work of others. I get involved in many of the story concepts from the beginning, while others come to us complete, but with a bit of editing to do. I have very eclectic taste in the arts in general. So, I truly appreciate all styles and means of visual expression. There is no type of photography that I would exclude from Burn. Anyone with a serious approach and intent to what they do is welcome on Burn.
I also spend a lot of my time talking to my audience. I try to answer all questions in our forum format, do some reviews when links are sent etc. Because of my travels on assignment I have had to good fortune to meet many in my audience in person. When I travel I make sure my audience knows where I am. We meet and discuss their work. If I have an event or workshop in my New York loft, I invite any and all Burn readers. They do show up!!
AT: What do you look for in a photographic series or a photographer today that you didn’t look for three years ago?
DAH: The key for photographers today is that they must be idea people. Concept people. It is no longer any advantage to have technical skills. Today one needs idea skills, to really have something to say, either journalistically or artistically. I see photography as a language far, far from dead. In my opinion, just being born. I look for visual literacy in a body of work. The makers must be visually literate and the audience must be visually literate as well. Seeking this happy medium of literacy from creator to audience is a full time preoccupation that will never end. However, the pursuit of this ideal is in and of itself an art.
AT: What is the goal of your online Forum in regards to Photography? Why is this your focus?
DAH: As I briefly mentioned, Burn has an educational imperative. I hope my audience not only sees, but also learns. If I help to educate even a few photographers or get them to think about their work and the work of others in a new way, then I have done my job. Since I was about 23, I have been involved in photography education one way or another. I was self-educated, but I could see early on that others needed a certain kind of mentoring. What luckily seemed to come natural for me, I could see did not come so easily to some others. I figured I could help. However, I am not a professional teacher. I am a working photographer who I think can help others since I am struggling just as they. Since I currently do assignments, publish books, get involved with galleries, exhibitions etc., I can give them firsthand feedback from my experience now. I do not tell old stories. I relate to what emerging photographers are doing because I am doing the same thing with perhaps my experience helping just a wee bit.
My primary mantra at Burn is to help create photographers who will have a sense of authorship: a personal attachment to their work that will manifest itself in serious authored photography. This brings us back to visual literacy.
AT: What would you say is the most significant progression in photography today?
DAH: The tech side has progressed. Technically photography has moved us forward in the sense that photography is now available to all. This has unfortunately led to a decrease in real photography education. In my generation the only way we could get into photography was by studying the classics so to speak. We only saw the work of the masters. Now a young photographer can come into photography through a Flickr group or something similar and go for a long time without ever really getting a handle on the basics in terms of who did what and when. They can miss the reference points totally. They do not reject the reference points once they know about them, but they are not necessarily part of their lexicon. So, we have gone forward and backward at the same time. However, and more to the point of your question, because of the plethora of online activity, a photographer can assimilate all. But, they must pick and choose wisely. Editors and curators I think are often frustrated that many young photographers, without these reference points, have no idea where their work stands in the big picture: the historical context of their work. This is where Visura and Burn kick in!!
AT: How important is having an online presence for photographers today as a resource to share their work?
DAH: This is the most positive side of the new technology. Young photographers are fortunate in that they have international venues all over the place. Millions can see their work relatively easily. So, if they do have something to offer, they should have no trouble in getting exposure. One of the things I most want to do at Burn is to also provide a venue where photographers are compensated for their work as they would be in print. I set up the Emerging Photographer Fund to at least give one photographer per year enough financing to finish an important project. This year we have a $15,000 grant that comes from generous donors from our audience. But this is not enough. I seek now sponsorship for projects. We did get sponsorship for a James Nachtwey piece and our goal is to use this same sponsor to finance three emerging photographers on assignment. I want to sponsor emerging photographers at the ratio of three to one with the iconic. This goal has not yet been realized, but hopefully I am close. One of my problems is also one of my strengths. I am still a full time shooting photographer. This obviously takes up much of my time. I am not a full time editor. Nor is Anton Kusters, creative director/tech guru, who launched Burn with me and is an integral part of Burn. Anton is a full time shooter as well and is one of my former students. Yet, I still think we can pull this off. No promises, but fingers crossed.
AT: What parameters would you like to transcend?
DAH: I have never liked the separation of the world of documentary photography and the world of art photography. I really really want to break down this imaginary fence. If Burn does nothing else in its lifetime but to help do this, then we will have at least put a brick in the wall for recognizing the “art” of documentary photography and the valuable “document” afforded by the most astute of the esoteric photographers. When the first edition of Burn comes out in print in a few weeks, it will be a testament to this blend.
Originally published on the New York Photo Festival blog