again, all of you wrote the story for me!!! in this little community at least, we all agree that there is really no hard line between "art and commerce"….

and , of course, art IS commerce….shakespeare and mozart certainly were "playing" for a mass audience and yet their work has transcended any of hint of "commercialization"…there is no way for any of us to know what work will "last"….artists who are "popular" during their time often disappear in the history books and others get "life" after death….a few rare lights like picasso seem to have had  a "perfect life" of comtemporary "commercial success" and knowing full well that art historians  would judge him well….at least, so far…

the main thing to think about i think is this… should simply do what makes you happy….using photography to live your life rather than having your life be conflicted by what you do….any work that reflects who you are deep inside is, in fact, "art"….whether this work ends up being "accepted" by any particular peer group should not be your concern….just do the work!!…..have a symbiotic relationship with your work and  your personal life …. every major photographer that i know who has achieved so called "success" has done so by totally doing exactly what he or she would have done with or without this "success"….acceptance or popularity or fame can actually be the "enemy" of creativity…i have seen that over and over again….. but that is another article for another day….

i hope it is obvious that i love photographers….ususally just such damned interesting people all around…..however, one of the negative characteristics that i do often see  among photographers, both young and old,  is the amazing ability for some  to come up with every kind of excuse imaginable for why they cannot do what they want to do….and the "excuses" are good ones….realities of life….income….family circumstances..(a bad boss is such a lame excuse, i will not even mention it)…however, there are others who seem "handicapped" by circumstance, yet to know how to fly…i suppose it is the old " is the glass half empty or half full" conundrum….

all of my ex-students out there know that i say one thing over and over and over again….give yourself the "assignment" or the "grant" that you would dream someone would give you….find a personal project and do it without regard for later "sales"…you must do this in your "spare time"….make your "spare time" longer and longer and longer…..the best kind of "commercial success" or "artistic success"  will come  to you only if you work in this way… will come in ways that you cannot imagine….you cannot plan for this….you must go with your gut….only in this way will anyone, editor or publisher or gallerist, ever see who you really are…what you really DO…

this will be absolutely 100 percent not easy….this will be absolutely 100 percent worth it….

43 thoughts on “re:your comments “art and commerce””

  1. Something about art and commerce

    Last time I was angry for myself because I have faced each other with criticism about my works, and I thought that I should not choose artistic way. I like very simply photography like the works Boudjelal Bruno, D’agata, Ackerman, Goldin, but of course I don’t want copy anyone. I’m looking for myself in photography. Many peoples says me that everyone could do pictures like their, and has curious nothing in it. It is usual. My wife has said me that I first should earn money with photography and then searching the simplicity and Art. I’m quite good photojournalist, not very very but quite good, or rather I will be if I stop thinking about art. I could be quite good artist if I don’t hate art.

    I do not thing about photography as about art. It is only (much as?) intellectual expression. Dostoevsky told stories only, but by the intellect it is art. By communication between minds. I think, it is the same with photography. It is only freeze picture what we see, and sometimes it is more. If something in art exhibition is completely incomprehensible this is pure art.

    Many of photojournalist consider that their work should not be art. Because they shooting “reality” they gives us “information” . We see many photos in newspaper and nobody remember two day ago about it. But many peoples remember Nachtwey’s works, and world which he shows us. Hunger, misery, war, fear, poverty. It is art? Certainly it is. Because, intellectual communication between minds. Because, we can see something more than news. What is information without our reaction? Kapuscinski was only reporter or only writer? What is world if not our reaction?
    But this is philosophy and photography this is life firstly.

    ” is the glass half empty or half full” is my favorite saying. It could describe everyone.


    Sorry for English I hope I’m not completely incomprehensible :)

  2. David

    “the main thing to think about i think is this… should simply do what makes you happy….using photography to live your life rather than having your life be conflicted by what you do….any work that reflects who you are deep inside is, in fact, “art”….whether this work ends up being “accepted” by any particular peer group should not be your concern….just do the work!!…..”

    I agree with this, but then again Im not supporting my family with my photography. I can happily do my thing, selling nothing at all but sticking to the way I like doing things. I think things would get very different if I had to make money with photography.:) Though here is the funny part, that making money with photography is what I want to do eventually….

  3. david alan harvey


    i was married with a child when i was 22 yrs. old..i had another child when i was 26….i felt blessed, but it meant i had to struggle struggle struggle…i earned my living as a photographer all this time and followed exactly the philosophy i put forward in this article…

    all of us have different circumstances….certainly i cannot project my life onto anyone else’s , but i do think in general that given good health and good ideas there are endless possibilities…my dream at 22 was to work for Life magazine…by the time i was 28 , Life magazine did not exist anymore…i had to “invent” my own new dream…one way or another we do have to “invent” a life…this in and of itself may be the most creative thing we ever do…

    it is always nice to hear from my Polish friends…cheers, david

  4. david alan harvey


    your english is perfect in terms of communication…you are totally comprehensible…i totally agree with you…we should just do what we do and not worry about any “labels”….

    best, david

  5. David,
    when I was a little kid I used to play a little bit of baseball, a little bit of basketball, a little bit of soccer…so I ended up playing a little bit of everything but a “lot” of nothing….Today I’m trying to teach my kids to focus on something and be as good as they can get in one thing …you can’t be good enough in 20 things at the same time.

    This, have become a “lesson learn” to me….maybe too late…at 48…now I just think about one thing…photography…still the opportunities are very low..


  6. Great great … this is an article that touch the heart, here we are talking about photography … but, maybe photography is life, and some words like “absolutely 100 percent not easy….this will be absolutely 100 percent worth it” can change the point of view of both ( life and photography ).
    Thanks david for this moment of meditationon.
    I hope to be first happy and later great photographer.

  7. david alan harvey


    you always write such thoughful words….

    as i wrote in another piece “it is never to late to be the man you could have been”

    i think you are on the right track…are you planning a book on puerto rico?? none exist…i mean really great essay book…you should do it!!!!

    abrazos, david

  8. david alan harvey


    you can have both…you must have both…

    almost everything that happens to us in life happens in our head and heart first…without this there can be no “action”


  9. Hi David,
    the book about Puerto Rico is half way already…thanks for your words…I’m back!

    I guess this blog is not an easy task for you…you have to divide yourself in 50% photographer…50% psiquiatric…and 100% friend…


  10. david,

    but you are a better photographer than me though:) So thats totally not surprising to me that you succeeded. As you know there are too many photogs out there snapping away. And a limited amount of opportunities compared to the vast numbers of people with cameras. Ok, granted not all of them want to shoot professionally but still MANY do and its tough to stand out. Im very jealous of you Magnum, VII, etc guys. Very jealous:)

    I wont tell you my dream because I doubt its even possible but you are living my dream LOL

  11. david alan harvey


    the blog is easy for me because i do not separate my life from my “work”…those who know me well would tell you this is easy for me….at least, so far…i have not changed anything in terms of making photographs because of this blog…that i would not do…the whole basis for me as a teacher/blogger is that the only way i can be a “guide” is if i am actually “doing it”…otherwise i would have absolutely nothing to say…

    as always, thanks for your courtesies and kind words….

    cheers, abrazos, etc…david

  12. david alan harvey


    probably because technology has made it “easy” to take pictures without any tech expertise whatsover…so photography looks really easy…but, writing looks easy too…any well educated person can write a gramatically correct sentence….but, there are few real poets…now that photography is a “common language” then it would stand to reason that there would have to be poets in photography too..nobody can intellectually tell you why in a 10 word sentence one writer, just by word juxtaposition, can make you weep and another only give you the “facts”…surely the same will be true of photography….such nice conversations we have!!!!

    cheers, david

  13. Very true about poets in photography David …

    Now, just to ask you, seeing as you are a documentary photographer what do you think of art photography (Gursky, Philip Lorca-diCorcia, Jeff Wall, etc) that isnt documentary in the Magnum sense.

    In saw Martin Parr mention flickr recently in how you guys at magnum have been discussing flickr and its potential to become something along Getty Images lines. Do you see that possibility? Do you go through flickr yourself sometimes?

  14. david alan harvey


    well, you have given me two totally different questions..i will answer both easily and briefly…

    first, i see myself as conceptual/documentary…at least, in “divided soul” which i view as my only published work which is “me”..i bear witness, but i do not tell journalistic “stories” per se in my book nor in my upcoming “living proof”..anyway a small point…

    and for sure conceptualists jeff wall, gursky and lorca-diCorcia and crewdson are all documentary though they do not bear witness..they DO tell stories …and i very much like most of their work..

    i think i feel another article coming here!! again, like writing, there is non-fiction and fiction….both with power…both telling “truths”….both enlightning…

    i have looked at flickr a lot..i am fascinated by the whole photo sharing community and how it will change the way we all look at photography….and i think flickr is already an “agency” isn’t it??? or, in any case, soon will be..

    in any case, to me, all of this is truly interesting…i do not see flickr as a threat to photography at all…it will just make people more aware of the “levels” of photography…people will become more visually literate rather than less…and i have seen some good work on flickr…just hard to find!!!…

    maybe oddly, i enjoy looking at all those snapshot pictures from peoples backyards, office parties,beach trips, graduations, leaning tower of pisa at bad light twelve o clock noon with uncle harry etc etc…imagine if you could print out one big collage of flickr images….one long piece of paper , say two blocks long… THAT would be conceptual art!!!!


  15. Hi David,

    Another really interesting post. I remember you giving me the advice about giving yourself your ideal shoot/assignment, over a couple of beers in Lisbon. Funnily enough Philip Jones Griffiths also gave me pretty much the same advice one day when I was helping him out in London. He said “fist take pictures for yourself, pictures that please you…then, take them for for close friends and colleagues, the ones whose opinions you really trust…finally, take them for the people you want to sell them to.” Doing it this way he told me, meant you were always satisfied with the work you’d produce.


  16. Actually thats the theme I picked up in magnum stories. many of the photogs insist on not being journalists. And I think its right on. I like the more personal aproach of the work, its far more interesting than the usual stuff from the newspaper anyway.

    I agree about flickr. I think its the biggest sharing site around, and its a great one. Though you touched on the point that theres a lot of photographic noise around which is very true of flickr, but also true is that there are a lot of gems there. Yes, its hard to find, but not that hard:)

  17. David,
    have you seen jpg magazine?…I think it’s a very interesting concept for photographers that wants to be published and being noticed, and being paid (well, $100 and a free 1 year suscription)

    They put 3 themes on the web every month…people submmit work from all over the world and then everybody votes. The result of the voting process becomes the printed version of the magazine…
    available in all mayor bookstores.
    Here’s the link…


  18. david,
    This post resonates with me. We haven’t met or talked, but as the partner of one of your former students I witness and feel this struggle. “Art and commerce”. Personal projects and “spare time” (spare time?!? lol). Personal and professional fulfillment in photography and life. They all seem to blur… and ideally they form a perfect little symbiotic ecosystem.

    A question (this may be a post for a different blog or different time)… How were you and your colleagues supported along the way by family and friends – both inside and outside the photography world? In your experience what is constructive and what is destructive?

    Love the blog. Your words are a beacon and an inspiration to many. Keep preaching.

  19. my girlfriend emailed me today, “have you read harvey’s blog? he’s talking to you again…” yes yes yes.

    in the last couple weeks i’ve just set up a wedding web-site, did headshots for an actor, did two assignments for the nytimes, shot for a personal project, emailed/connected with many photographers/friends, downloaded applications, ‘studied’, worked at the engineering firm, payed the bills, attended family functions, spent quality time with my girlfriend, etc. etc… is this living the ‘dream’? i’ll take it. am i ‘satisfied’? no way.

    everytime i get behind the camera i think about ‘authorship’… it doesn’t make me a magnum photographer today, but it makes me a happy photographer.

    there is lifetimes worth of reading to do everyday.. this blog is a haven among them.

  20. hahaha.. i will be the one who is always complaining :P
    but.. i think not everywhere life is so easy… maybe i should try to make my living from other job, not photography…
    in Poland newspapers pay 2-5 dolars per picture (yes, yes.. 2-5 dolars!) :) so.. there is not way to work as a photographer and think about it as art.. it’s sad but true..
    but … maybe it’s not so bad.. few days ago i saw that Rafal Milach, photographer from Poland will go to Joob Swart Masterclasses! … so maybe it’s possible be to be happy as photographer :) from this not
    kind for artist country…
    we will see.. but if i will not make my livng from photography i will be very sad person some day… and i dont want to be unhappy :)

  21. I’m a bit late in this conversation…but while we’re on the subject of art and commerce…I just got home from an Opening for Alex Webb in La Jolla, CA featuring work from his new book Istanbul, City of a Hundred Names. I have been waiting to meet Alex for a couple of years. Signed up for a workshop he and Rebecca were teaching at Santa Fe Workshops two summers ago but it was cancelled due to lack of enrollment. A shame! Anyhow Alex and Rebecca were great as is his show. I told them I am a “devotee” of this blog and they said to send their regards. I don’t know if any sales were made (I bought the book) but it was nice to see a good crowd who appreciated his work.

  22. david alan harvey

    hi sean…

    philip jones griffiths has always been able to say things in a very special way…usually with wales wit..

    by the way, are you in london?? i am coming on tuesday if you are around…

    cheers, david

  23. david alan harvey


    yes, jpeg magazine is a very cool new magazine….i have only seen two hard copy issues, and have looked on-line a few times, but my firsst impressions are good…i will look some more…


  24. david alan harvey


    yes, jpeg magazine is a very cool new magazine….i have only seen two hard copy issues, and have looked on-line a few times, but my firsst impressions are good…i will look some more…


  25. David… Rafal… Aga…

    For me the best way is doing everything different than the others photographers. If I can not earn money with photography (sometimes I can, I pray for more, and always I give them beautiful and nice photos ) I will doing this for Satisfaction and Ambition . I will make my photography more and more unsells! (can I write that? Unsells?) Even if my photography will ugly and simply, dark and shaken. Even if I must using cheap film from hypermarket (it gives beautiful results sometimes, colorless in dark).
    In some way it is freedom. Am I right? I think I have to….



  26. david alan harvey


    yes, this is a whole discussion to have….and that is why i have put a “family/friends” separate blog here just to go into these issues….i have barely started because this is a key element for me…dig a bit into that archive, since there will be a few hints for you already…but i do plan articles on both ¨relationships” and family support soonest….

    many thanks for your comment….david

  27. david alan harvey

    Aga, Rafal and Martin…

    well, obviously i have to come to Poland sometime soon to meet all of you…but, i think rafal is actually in that correct??

    aga, you break my heart when you write…and when i write any article about anything, please understand that it is only from my personal perspective…i do realize that life for a photographer in Poland is more difficult perhaps than for some others….but, i also know that great photographers have emerged from societies where things were impossible or very difficult…i have not looked to see if you have a link for your work, but i will do so…maybe i will be able to help you think a bit better after i see what you do….

    martin, you make me laugh out loud sometimes!! i like the word “unsells” even though i have never read it before!!! you make me laugh, but i know very well by now that you are a serious person and i do take you seriously….and you are a great thinker and sometimes totally creative by inventing new words!!!

    do all of you know each other personally?? anyway, a big hug to my Polish friends….

    cheers, david

  28. david alan harvey

    cat woman….i hope you will like the show tonight….me gusta mucho tus fotos!! besos, david

  29. David

    It is great when I can make you laugh! We should laugh! Life is serious, I’m serious, photography is serious, you are serious, to many serious thing in one sentence!
    If I stay serious I will be boring, someday…

    I can not find any word “something what is not selling very good”. How you call that? I should buy bigger dictionary…
    I keep learning English, or rather I keep fighting…

    No, We not know each other personally, but I think we understood each other. Specific communication.

    Good day…


  30. Just read this in a book and try my best to translate.
    “The camera cant compete whit the paintings, so long as It cant be used in heaven or hell” Edvard Munch

    When I read that (maybe the translation is not good) I think that the best pictures are just there, heaven or hell? They got something, energy… nerve…

    Gunnar Mjaugedal

  31. Hi David,

    PJG is one of the most interesting and inspiring people I have ever met. In the short time I have known him, his colourful and descriptive stories are indeed told in a way only he, as a Welshman can!

    Sorry to say I won’t be in London when you’re there. Have actually moved to live in Beijing. Moved here 9 months ago and don’t make it back to the UK as often as I’d like. I doubt you remember, but I mentioned this to you as my dream over those beers in Lisbon. Well, I gave myself my dream posting and moved here. It’s going well. I keep your advice, and that of PJG and others from my time at Magnum, with me.

    I’d appreciate your thoughts on a new story I recently did here in China. It’s entitled ‘Bethel-China’s Blind Orphans’. You can see it at Index>China>Bethel

    All the best David,

  32. Edgard Marques

    Hi, Dave. First of it all: it’s been such a very interesting week we’ve got here in Madrid. Just for you to know, i’m the big brazilian guy at EFTI’s night class. Well, i’m here to say that i’m happy that our discussion about the artificial separation between “art” and “journalism” photographers that happens here have become subject of debate at your blog.
    And i’m also happy of seeing that many other photographers are struggling — just like me — to establish a strong connection between their work and whatever gives them inspiration. Between art and commerce. Cheers. I’m already a new fan of your road trips.
    P.S. I’ve got some shots of you “at work” the last day of classes, during and after the presentation. Can i send you?

  33. Hi David. I am from brazil and I watched a documentary (program) in national geografic and i loved. I’m sorry for your stolen camera. I intend to continue following your work, Forever, forever. congrats. bye Patricia ( now is 20:33 – sunday – in brazil)

  34. Hi David,

    Just discovered your Blog and I would like to say thanks for the breath of fresh air.

    If you have a chance I would greatly appreciate your advice regarding publishing my longterm project and connecting positively with picture editors.

    Best wishes,


  35. davidalanharvey

    cathy…so pleased you met alex and rebecca…terrific photographers, terrific people AND and they have a terrific relationship!!!

  36. davidalanharvey


    very nice work from china!!! several very strong images…. i am so pleased to see you moving forward sean….do you have a book in mind??? in any case, keep it up….i look forward to seeing more…

    cheers, david

  37. davidalanharvey


    yes, i would love to see the images you made in madrid….just send by e-mail i suppose….

    by the way, i do like efti very much…truly nice people who run that program…and most of them agree with me that it is a shame to have this artificial separation between the art and photojournalism crowd….

    saludos, david

  38. davidalanharvey


    there is the most interesting story about my stolen camera in brazil….one year after the camera was stolen, as you saw in the documentary, i went back to that same neighborhood by total coincidence to follow a man who was doing good things in that favella….he saw me working with my camera which was just like the one that had been stolen…he said “do you always use a camera like that?”…i said yes, always… he said ” well, we “found” a camera just like that last year” … i was amazed….i did not say more…two days later the camera came back to me by way of a mutual friend…i did not ask any questions, but only thanked them for “finding” my camera…the film was still in it that i had shot!!!! it was a pretty beat up camera (which may be why it had no “market value”), but it was my favorite and it was so nice to have it returned one year later!!!! only too bad THAT story was not in the film….


  39. davidalanharvey


    publishing your long term project and connecting with editors is exactly the work i do in workshops….and i view emerging photogs work in my new york loft all the time too…it is just a matter of timing and my time….

    if you are in the new york area, please stop by…you can call my studio manager, marie 718 388-5799 to make an appointment….i will say that now i am so so busy trying to get my show up and book published, but if you are persistent, i am sure you will get in the door…

    best, david

  40. david,

    Thanks for your advice. I am based in Slovakia so New York isn’t too convenient at the moment. If I find myself there this year I will call.

    Best wishes with the show and book. I saw the multi-media on the NG website and enjoyed it from concept onwards, a very human story.

    Best Andrew

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