Photo © #1 Paprica Fotografia, #2, 3, 5 Candy Pilar Godoy, #4 Vinicius Matos, #6 Michelle Madden Smith
#1: subject from photo in book shows up for launch book signing in Rio, #2: magazines given away on soccer field in Cantagalo community in Rio, #3: young boy helps with a wall “pasting” of our book in Cantagalo, #4 and 5: neighborhood square in Tavares Bastos, #6: signing for Usain Bolt in Jamaica




My schedule has been a bit crazy lately. Or maybe it always is. I have a really hard time saying “no” to stuff. Especially if it involves wide eyed youngsters who I can see are just craving some words of “wisdom”.

Of course this seems often strange to me, since I am craving words of wisdom myself!!

The recent marathon to Rio to giveaway a magazine version of (based on a true story) and then straight to Jamaica to work with Usain Bolt and 25 young photographers leaves me feeling like I just ran the 100 meter sprint and the mile on top of it. I was a long distance runner in my youth, so that mentality does come in handy for almost everything I do. You can always “kick it” just a little bit more even if you just can’t. Works.

My team of Eva-Maria Kunz, Roberta Tavares, Candy Pilar Godoy, Michelle Madden Smith, and Mike Courvoisier made it all work. Ever since I started Burn it has been the collaborative effort that rules. None of us can do much alone. Finding great collaborators will change your life if you have not already figured that out. I always tell my students, “find ONE person you trust” to help you with your work . To be a second set of eyes. To be an advisor. To kick you in the butt. Works.

Now I only do this post for one reason. As a story about inspiration. And inspiration is THE fuel for doing any damned thing. If you are not inspired, you might as well stay in bed. You need fire in the belly. Forget exotic places, the right camera. Without the “fire”, pasa nada.

Readers here know by now I come up with a lot of crazy ideas. Including the evolution of Burn in so many ways. Some (most) of my ideas do not work. Yet some do. Again, if you can complete one out of ten ideas you have, you are in the upper percentile of people who can FINISH something.

One of my crazy ideas was to giveaway half of the print run of (based on a true story) the magazine version. It was a crazy idea, it still is a crazy idea, and I did it and I “lost” financially and yet for me this was maybe the very coolest most successful thing I ever did. For sure the most rewarding. Sure I always “give” when I am shooting. Bringing back prints to people I have always done. Buying my subjects a cold beer or dinner or whatever I have always done.

Yet I have never been in a position to really really show the people where I was shooting exactly what I did. Most often they never knew. Never saw NatGeo or whatever magazine I was shooting for on a story. Yet this time I brought it back. As a thank you for allowing me to work in the Carioca community. Sure only a gesture or symbolic at best. Yet I could feel the vibe, the look in their eyes, the feeling of doing the right thing. After all (based on a true story) was not just a collaboration of my team but a collaboration with the subjects I photographed.

Segued right behind the Rio giveaway was a few days in Kingston, Jamaica with 25 young photographers aged 13-17 who belong to photo clubs around the island. The Usain Bolt Foundation and Samsung made this happen. These kids were amazing. Smart, focused, ready to learn, shooting well. We pulled an “all nighter” to get the prints made (thanks Mike, Michelle, Candy) for an on the spot exhibition of their work which was then viewed by Jamaica super hero Usain Bolt who also walked away with a signed free copy of (based on a true story)!!

Anyway, life is all one big circle. Yup, what goes around, comes around and a whole bunch of other cliches about paying back paying forward yada yada yada. Well all I can say, and I think my team would say, it is worth it, worth it, and worth it.

We are selling on Burn, and at Magnum, and at PhotoEye and possibly other venues the other half of the (based on a true story) print run…At the lowest price possible. The collector edition, now gone, was what it was and expensive by nature. Yet while I do like appealing to collectors my heart can never be elitist. The success of the collector edition paid for at least part of the giveaway and the sales of the second part of the print run should get us at break even point. Good biz? Nope. Yet the right thing all around.

And besides, “breaking even” if you are leading the life you love, and may help a few others to do so,  is a nice reward. What more to ask for?

So, I implore you to pick up your camera and do “your thing” and at the same time make it another person’s “thing” as well…Make it a two way street. Either with the pictures themselves. Or by passing on any knowledge you have to somebody else.

Give it away. Works.





169 Responses to “payback”

  • Inspiring as usual, David. You “live the life” – but you earn it!


  • a civilian-mass audience

    ” If you are not inspired, you might as well stay in bed. You need fire in the belly. Forget exotic places, the right camera. Without the “fire”, pasa nada.”


  • Great to read and see all of this David!
    Always talking the talk and walking the walk.
    Let me pester you and remind you about a wall pasting here in Miami.
    It can coincide with the art walk in the design district for full exposure.

    Always thankful for these bits of inspiration and wisdom!
    And as the saying goes….”keep on trucking”!

  • DAH

    Love how that kid is looking up at you and the kind way you are looking down at him in the bottom left corner me chills to feel the connection and imagine one day this kid telling the story in front of a packed audience there to see his work, about the day David Allan Harvey signed his book and what that meant to him and how his life never was the same again.

    Smoke the life


  • ..oops, that would be Alan, with one L, of course..

  • a civilian-mass audience

    “Always talking the talk and walking the walk.”

  • a civilian-mass audience

    “Smoke the life”


  • “Either with the pictures themselves. Or by passing on any knowledge you have to somebody else” Or best of all; both :-)

  • Is there somewhere online where we can see the student work from the Jamaica workshop?

  • ““find ONE person you trust” to help you with your work . To be a second set of eyes. To be an advisor. To kick you in the butt.”

    I was fortunate to find someone like that early on, and it changed everything. He forced me to work harder, think about more than just what was directly in front of me, to be true to the subjects, to treat them with respect and care, to always know that “good enough” was not good enough.

    He knows who he is, and if he is reading this, like I know he does from time to time, I want to say thank you.

    But there is also benefit from getting information from a wide range of people. Over the past several years, I have gotten advice, feedback and motivation from more people than I can count. More than I can ever thank fully. People like DAH, Erica McDonald, Karen Malarkey, Chris Usher and Jaime Carrero have all led me in the right direction in one way or another.

    Payback is what has struck me as wonderful in the photography community. Passing knowledge on to eager novices through mentorships, email and facebook messages, sites like Burn and Lightstalkers, and personal meetings. Amazing. I have been regularly overwhelmed with the generosity of other photographers, and have tried to give back to those who have less experience than my paltry levels. I urge others to continue to do the same.

    Payback indeed. Hopefully I can pay back with interest.

    Sorry, I get a little ramble-ly when the scotch flows.

    DAH, I did resubmit my proposal to you and the others you mentioned on the Burn staff.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    “…think about more than just what was directly in front of me, to be true to the subjects, to treat them with respect and care, to always know that “good enough” was not good enough.”

  • Brian, the level of help that photographers give to each other is something to behold.

    This may not extend to the movie industry: one of my favourite lines from movies is “Who do you have to sleep with to get off this picture?”.


  • Finally someone with common sense ……… “There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.” /……….

  • good stuff Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

  • @ BRIAN:

    Yes, absolutely true. Just stay in the same line, step by step, looking forward and backward at the same time. Payback “pays” after some time, a few years I would say… but it pays :-)

    Shine. P.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    What makes a photographer professional?

    I don’t know…I see Evolution and Revolution in the field…
    I take snapshots with my camera phone…am I a pro?hmm

    I think that a Photographer has to have:
    ability to produce quality images (consistently)
    get paid for his work…
    the times are changing …for everyone,doctors,teachers,athletes…

    respect to all pro’s !!!

    my 2 euro cents or 5 drachmas

  • the beauty of it all the camera phone has enhanced photography’s role as a tool of communication the elitist world is fading

  • Yeah always give back there’s no need for secrets. So very satisfying to help someone, see their eyes light up as they begin to understand. Thank you for teaching me…

  • Now if only we can clear the art galleries of all the clutter

  • Carlo this is what should be promoted a change leave the work in its altered state along with the photos sponsored by the camera manufacturer.

  • Imants

    I agree.

    God, but for something real in photography, what i wouldn´t give!


  • DAH. EVA. I see you have listed Photo Eye as a venue for the magazine. I’ve been hounding them to the point that I think I can take some (if not all) credit for “brokering” the deal….even today I again traded messages with Melanie. Maybe I have a future as a photographers agent :)

    Maybe my payback will come in the form of a lower shipping cost…that was my initial reason for working on them to place an order…guess I will soon see if my plan worked!

    Either way I look forward to my copy!

  • a civilian-mass audience

    my apologies…”get paid for his work…”

    get paid for HER / HIS work…!!!

    I love YOU ALL…good morning from beautiful,broken Grecolandia …

    what goes around,comes around…the circle of life…enjoy!


    as i wrote to you earlier, the shipping costs are just not something we have any control over…it costs us quite a bit just to get the magazines from the Italy printing plant to our Texas shipping point..PhotoEye had done a review of our book early on and had listed us as one of their top choices in 2012 and at the same time we appreciate always any help we can get…so thanks Cathy…

    cheers, david


    we have your book dummy and proposal….very nice work….we are looking at many book proposals all the way through June… way or another Burn will do something with your latest version of the fight essay….

    cheers, david


    for sure the camera phone has made photography an actual common language and now photography is super egalitarian…this is a good thing….at the same time, no matter if everyone on the planet is shooting simultaneous, there will always be a few “poets” who do things with the language that others do not…it would go against every aspect of hum nature to imagine all photography being “equal”…you are assuming by using the word “elitist” that somehow those who are in galleries and in books are not simply “best”…oh sure nobody will ever think judgement is “fair”…i am sure for centuries artists not chosen feel unfairly missed….and for sure there have been some bad calls…on the other hand, as i look at the gallery scene the museum scene and the publishing scene and those rewarded and those not, in the very long run the cream does indeed tend to rise to the top…and yes there is a lot of junk in all of these places as well…yet when the dust settles, as i have watched all of this process for awhile now, artistic justice does seem to prevail….

    cheers, david

  • To say that there’s no such thing as professional photographers anymore is like saying there’s no such thing as carrots. Finding the truth of the matter doesn’t require putting one’s trust in some expert. One can easily go to the marketplace and confirm that both carrots and professional photographers do, indeed, exist. The fact that a billionaire CEO spouts such nonsense says more about American corporations sad disconnect from easily observable reality than it does about photography.

    To David’s point, here’s an apt quote I came across this morning while looking for something else. From John Szarkowski writing about William Eggleston:

    “It could be said – it doubtless has been said – that such pictures often bear a clear resemblance to the Kodachrome slides of the ubiquitous amateur next door. It seems to me that this is true, in the same sense that the belles-lettres of a time generally relate in the texture, reference, and rhythm of their language to the prevailing educated vernacular of that time. In broad outline, Jane Austen’s sentences are presumably similar to those of her seven siblings. Similarly, it should not be surprising if the best photography of today is related in iconography and technique to the contemporary standard of vernacular camera work, which is in fact often rich and surprising. The difference between the two is a matter of intelligence, imagination, intensity, precision, and coherence.”

  • No David I was referringto the sacred cow attitudes of the arts still alive and kicking “……… no elitist was not used in the sense as you seem to assume I used the term

  • With regard to the ‘no such thing as professional photographers anymore’ comment – made by someone with something to sell – the serious photographer (professional or amatuer (lover)) has always relied on the casual photographer to generate the hardware of photography i.e. cameras and film / cards, because the number of photographers serious about their craft simply cannot sustain the industry alone. With digital photography it is possible for the casual photographer to produce photographs of great quality without having much knowledge of photographic techniques at all.

    This can lead to an assumption by the general public that good photography is easy and that that anyone can do it and everyone is now a professional. This assumption is compounded by many serious photographers following the various digital trends (sloping perspective, high contrast, strong vignette etc.) that look just like the effects available on many an iPhone. The boundary between craft and technology has become blurred.

    I’ve recently finished a project using a DSLR and often on being complemented have said that I just pointed the camera and shot. When trying out the new digital Leica in a store I was surprised by how true my throw away line was: I took a photo and looked at the LCD, to see that the photo was underexposed and out of focus. I had forgotton to perform both manually.

    Yes the cream will usually rise to the top but in an age of information overload how does a photographer get noticed?


  • Mike the great thing about the new technology is that we can now access a lot of movies about the youth of today created by them as opposed to interpretations by “40 year olds” as what we had in the past.

    The internet and cheap technology has given access to the young to create and distribute their work,here is the home of popular culture not the monolith galleries that churn out blockbusters of the past.
    As for the boundary between craft and technology has becoming blurred, I don’t see this as a negative as there are plenty of examples in the past, eg the technology of the photograph, the printing press, electricity etc all have impacted on the arts. This has only led to a greater creative drive.

  • “yet when the dust settles, as i have watched all of this process for awhile now, artistic justice does seem to prevail…”. ……. but with the change in the platform a new justice will prevail


    Agree completely on the amazing network and level of help in the photog community if you simply raise your hand and ask…I have been the grateful recipient of such help, when starting back into my interest in the art after years of neglecting it by a chance reading of a Lightstalker post that resulted from a Google search. That post led me to read more, then to participate a bit, then to meet people in real life.

    I may never publish a book, or hang an exhibition (but you never know, now, do you, I suppose) – but I am certainly a richer person for the kindness and generosity of spirit I have experienced from many in the community…

    Good light to all, and those of us in the States, please remember what this weekend holiday is about – and also be safe.


  • eduardo sepulveda


    Extraordinario to see this!

    Vale la pena, vale la pena, vale la pena.

    Lo que das, se devuelve!

  • eduardo sepulveda

    Lakota Circle

    In the Circle, we are all the same.

    Nobody is before you, nobody is behind you.

    Nobody is above you, nobody is beneath you.

    The Circle is sacred because it was made to bring unity.

  • Yes I agree with Imants a new justice will perhaps prevail. When I was 12 years old learning hendrix, Led Zeppelin or whoever’s solo it was damn hard. The only way in the 80’s was by ear and just listening intently to the LP, it was hard, very few of my music friends managed it. These days it’s marvelous it’s so easy to find on the Internet correctly transcribed solos by every group you can name. Democracy! In the end the important thing is people play songs and enjoy themselves. I’ve seen young bands round here who play all the heavy metal stuff perfectly thanks to YouTube and other music sites. That didn’t exist when I was a kid I was lucky I have a great ear but I knew many young kids who didn’t have a good enough ear or technique to transcribe off an LP who finally gave up trying. You had to be slightly obsessed in the old days just to play a damn song. I think it’s great these days the Internet, instagram YouTube. Democracy is nice gives everyone a little chance.

  • And I’m not going to write a long comment with my phone ever again.

  • Can anyone show me sow to use this wonderful technology to submit an essay to Burn. Not EPF.


  • Paul, I think the advent of midi/virtual instruments/digital audio workstation software is the better comparison to digital photography. One no longer needs to learn how to play an instrument, certainly not to play one exceptionally. With the new Abletron Live, you can hum a few bars and the software will notate it and from there you can edit, apply whatever instruments or sound effects. Making music becomes all about one’s aesthetic rather than what is so often hereditary physical skills. Similar to photography where one can make an image look however one wants without the necessity of learning to work precisely with chemicals. Physical barriers are removed and one can put far more energy into the art. Conversely, one can argue, even demonstrate, that there are many cases where dedication to the more esoteric elements of the craft and hereditary or well-honed through practice physical skills add another level of aesthetic that can’t be duplicated by easy access technology. Ultimately, I don’t know if the combination of physical skill and aesthetics trumps technological trickery and aesthetics. I always lean towards yes it does, but can’t really justify that conclusion when I try. Either way takes a lot of hard work and some kind of high level skill.

  • My very good friend and fantastic singer doing a session for the BBC now.

  • If technology helps individuals to express themselves I’m all for it. Does it dumb-down or enable? Probably both; no easy answer.
    It doesn’t have to be one or the other though ..


  • ……and once again we are reminded that a beautifully made picture of nothing is still, just a picture of nothing.

  • I know, John; no people. Nevertheless the technique is interesting – to me. I might even watch with the sound on!

  • Mike. the technique is wonderful. I adore platinum prints. but they have to be a vehicle for something, dont they?

  • do you know what? ignore me. I’m sure that millions of people really enjoy pictures of trees. i am just being prickly.

  • Nothing can be great, John. Remember, there is absolutely nothing nutritious about a jelly doughnut, but if you hold one hostage anywhere in the United States, you can expect to find yourself up to your ass in cops in no time flat. It’s all a question of what you value, I think; people tell me that Seinfeld, a show, as we all know, about nothing, was funny, but somehow I kept missing the funny. Go figure.

  • A vehicle for something; otherwise it’s just technique. You have to have something to say. That’s the hard part.

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