Living Proofby David Alan Harvey
powerHouse Books, December 2007
112 pages/hardcover/52 photographs/$29.95
Reviewed by Jain Lemos
“Skip the pictures and go straight to the last page...read Uptown’s poem,” advises David Alan Harvey on perusing his latest book, Living Proof. Missing any of Harvey’s images is never recommended, even if he says so himself. Harvey gives us the impression that the cavern between the cryptically thunderous lyrics of a rising hip hop artist and the expert visual storytelling of a super-pro photojournalist is a gap too immense to bridge. Isn’t that unthinkable for someone as fly as Harvey?
Harvey undertakes the hip hop scene after unexpectedly meeting Boogie Down thugs Uptown and Ruckus in the Bronx. Keyed up by the images from their first meeting, he returns for more, eventually extending his intrigue into Mississippi, Senegal, Spain and Thailand. Yet sadly, even during downtimes, Harvey’s subjects-turned-friends only provide him with performances to shoot. Frames depicting intimate moments, such as Ruckus with his daughter or candid opportunities where artists are hanging on the corner watching all the girls, look too propped up.
If the poetry in Living Proof is more noteworthy than Harvey’s pictures it’s because the distressingly organic honesty of these rappers’ writing style can’t be overlooked. That’s not to say that Harvey didn’t penetrate their world better than any other outsider shooter might have. It’s just that we see what we always see: massive gold links, heavy medallions, NBA jerseys, bling grillz, heat-packing brothers, nylon do-rags, diamond-studded Rolexes, and branded warm-up suits with twisted baseball caps.
Living Proof’s bum wrong-trim-size-for-full-bleed format is heartbreaking, too. So many photographs are in the gutter with stitching scaring the middle of faces; the only explanation is that such an infuriating disrespect for photography presentation is intentional. Still, it feels as though Harvey’s publisher faded him out.
On his blog, Harvey posts selects from the project. Here, his images from Living Proof beg for pause. Once seen released from their bookbinding prison the images stop struggling, allowing Harvey’s passion to gel with Uptown’s closing credo: “With every difficulty comes ease in this pain-afflicting saga called life….”