David Alan Harvey

Tell It Like It Is

[ Published by BurnBooks ]


I went a little bit crazy publishing this book. Just like I did the first time. In 1967, Bryan was six months old and I was spending the last $400 of the family money to go buy film. This time around isn’t any different. I am all in on the publication of Tell It Like It Is.

I say this proudly, yet not boastfully.

My pride is based on giving a percentage of profits to the Liggins family and to set up a scholarship for a minority photographer.

We take the self-publishing idea very seriously around here. I spare no expense in the manufacturing of my work. I just want it right. This makes my books a little more expensive, yet if you look closely you will clearly see the value of a well thought out, well designed, well assembled photo book. We do our best to make each of our books a piece of art.

None of this is possible without my colleagues Anton Kusters and Diego Orlando on design and production; Kaya Lee Berne all around producer, darkroom assistant, and make me get shit done woman, Michael Courvoisier for scanning the original negatives, Michelle Madden Smith for creating our new BurnStore, and my son Bryan for making the book video (and Michelle for editing it) and my other son Erin for helping me find the Liggins family and doing video of the reunion. 



Tell It Like It Is is also a 25 print show, big 60”x40” silver gelatin prints at LOOK3, along with Haenyeo: Angels of the Sea (which is also a new book), along with NO FILTER, prints of some of my Brazil work. So I’ve got my hands full.

In short, we’ll be shipping as fast as we can, but cannot promise your package will go out until after June 15. 

But do come see me at LOOK3. It’s the best U.S. photo fest hang. Down home style. 

I put my heart into Tell It Like It Is in 1967, and I’ve put my heart into it now as well.

– david alan harvey




David Alan Harvey and assistant Kaya Lee Berne in his Outer Banks darkroom, printing silver-gelatin prints for the Collector’s Edition.
(Photo by Frank Overton Brown III)



Tell It Like It Is

by David Alan Harvey


Published by BurnBooks May 2015
Layout and Design: Anton Kusters and Diego Orlando
Image Color Correction: Paolo Lecca
Production: Michael Courvoisier, Kaya Lee Berne
Offset Printing by Grafiche Antiga, Treviso, Italy
15″ x 22.5″
Originally shot In 1967 when David Alan Harvey was just 23 and in graduate journalism school in Missouri. Tell It Like It Is was destined to be re-published. It is a photographic slice of another era, and a small piece of one family’s history in the U.S.


40 thoughts on “BurnBooks announces the release of “Tell It Like It Is” by David Alan Harvey”

  1. Amazing, an absolute work of art. Well worth waiting all these years way back on RoadTrips. BTW the Burn shop is also an absolute class act.

  2. David, amigo! :)

    sorry for the long silence….i’ve been in Taiwan for weeks writing and working on my project….

    I JUST BOUGHT MY COPY! :) :)….

    will write more here when i get home…i’m running to the airport!

    only for you would i stop the backing, getting my ass kicked by my girlfriend waiting for a cab to run to Taipei airport, to buy your book…

    more later


    thank you for your support…so much appreciated….hoping our paths cross again soonest….


    yes, this has taken a long time to finally get done….timing, timing, and timing…..well for one thing, i could not do it until i re connected with the Liggins….that in itself took some doing….


    new girlfriend? this i what i want to know about!! safe travels my friend and there is still an empty chair on my front porch for you….

    cheers, david

  4. Nice video, nice Burn Store and beautiful book! it really looks gorgeous in the video!
    Looking forward to holding it in my hands.

    The NO FILTER prints from Brazil…is that Beach Games?

    I wish I could make it to Look3 and buy you a beer but the stars did not line up for me this time around.
    I’m sure your exhibition and talk will be a roaring success!!! no doubt about it!

  5. That special edition is a bit put of my price range, but it looks wondrous. Color me green of anyone who gets one of those. I love the addition of a reproduction of the original, with all the imperfections. Those imperfections add a layer of parallels to the lives you photographed. Love that. IF it were a choice, that would sell like hotcakes as well.

    I saw in a previous mention of this being republished, that it had been a really long time since you touched base with that family. I’m curious of why that is.

  6. CARLO

    sorry to miss you at LOOK….i might be in Miami again around Art Basel time…we meet there? BeachGames pictures are sort of mixed with (based on a true story) and with Bahia…so all Brazil work….BeachGames is almost ready to go as a book as well…but i already have two new books…Tell It and Haenyeo….


    yes, my books are always a bit expensive because honestly i just cannot bear to make something that is not top quality…so i don’t go to china to print for example to save money..i like to be on press in Italy where i feel comfortable with a team who is able to build all kinds of special things..like the replicas which are quite amazing and the black plastic bag which seems to simple but is a miracle of invention and production…so these little fanatic details are expensive!! the new book alone is expensive to build with that binding that won’t break and lies flat…the new version of the book is actually being sold at the cost it took to build it…publishing books is a break even business at best….yet it is what i love doing the most….so i will continue to publish whenever i can….


    yes, i wanted to stay totally in the past…there is a present of course in reality…the back story of reconnecting with the Liggins family is another whole story…but i decided to leave that out…i did not want to update so to speak…that is another story for somebody else to write….

    send pictures of your studio in Tasmania….curious how life is there…

    cheers, david

  7. Miami for Art Basel sounds like a plan!
    It sounds great!
    Thanks for answering the question about the Brazil work. I was curious.

    All the best once again for LOOK3!!!!

  8. David,

    Would have loved the collectors edition just to learn from your contacts, I remember you talking about it months ago! … alas I shall have to stick the main run, so looking forward to it arriving!


  9. “yes, my books are always a bit expensive because honestly i just cannot bear to make something that is not top quality”

    Expensive, but the buyer clearly gets a bundle for their bucks.

  10. I may take you up on that next year David – would be great.
    Hope to send you a book dummy at some point during the year.. getting there, doing not trying.

  11. tonyhayesimages

    Cheers for that David. One day I hope to be able to finally take a workshop with you somewhere in Europe. Good luck with Look 3.

  12. AKAKY: Do you think-?

    AKAKY_IRL: Hell no, bubba, not in your wildest imaginings are you going to spend $750 on anything that’s not related to keeping the car on the road. Just ain’t gonna happen.

    AKAKY: What about the sixty dollar book?

    AKAKY_IRL: Didn’t it used to be two bucks?

    AKAKY: Yup.

    AKAKY_IRL: Then how come it’s sixty dollars now?

    AKAKY: Inflation, dude. What can you do? Have you seen how much hamburger meat costs nowadays? It’s disgusting, I think.

    AKAKY_IRL: I’ll think about it.

    AKAKY: That’s all I’m asking, dude, that’s all I’m asking.

  13. David, You sold me on “Tell It Like It Is” way back when and so, when I saw the book was available, I ordered without bothering to watch the video. After reading the comments I decided I had better go back and look at the video.

    I clicked “play” and was stunned right off the bat… by the soundtrack! Pamyua? Great choice. How did you know about Pamyua?

    At least it sure sounds like Pamyua. There was no credit and I could not match it up to any specific Pamyua song I could find online, but I’ve never heard any other group with a sound like that and it seems like I have heard them sing this song live. Maybe in Greenland. Maybe in Canada. Maybe in Alaska. Maybe in Washington, DC.

    Pamyua is an Inuit group whose members hail originally from Southwest Alaska and Greenland. The lead singer and my oldest son graduated from Wasilla High together. If I am wrong and it is another group who sounds so uncannily like the only group of musicians I have ever encountered with a sound of this nature, then maybe you could add a credit so I will know. If I am right, I am sure a credit would also be appreciated – no less than any of us would appreciate a photo credit.

    In watching the video, I experienced a moment of strong nostalgia. That was when you pulled out the black plastic envelope. I could smell the paper and the chemicals. Perhaps I will never smell this again for real. I have no plans to return to that technology, but you made me kind of long for it and the days before Instagram and Facebook.

    I greatly look forward to receiving and paging through my book. I wish I could get the full collectors’ package, especially what I am sure will be the excellent printing of the originally poorly printed version and the contact sheets. To look at those contact sheets, side by side with the book – that would be amazing! But, alas, although everything is going exceptionally well for me at the moment and when I am home in Wasill I can afford to go to Taco Bell every day (of course there is no Taco Bell out in the places where I do my field work) this kind of prosperity is not likely to last, especially considering the dramatic decline in the price of oil, so I must limit myself to the book.

  14. David,

    The book looks amazing. Well designed (as always) a little piece of art. And the prints! Good idea, good work, congrats. It looks like you has come full circle.
    And what next?

  15. AKAKY

    well i think we can both agree that neither of us has ever seen on the biz page of the New York Times any story about somebody striking it rich publishing photo books…

    seems to be a break even biz at best….

    our Tell It Like It Is at 60 bucks is priced right at the actual cost of production….actually the minimum cost of a Blurb book not so well printed on an Indigo press , right? and ours is printed and bound primo class in Italy on Heidelberg offset….i am unable to spare manufacturing cost…i am gonna build it right…i cannot make myself go cheap go to Asia to print which even the best commercial publishers do….

    the caveat here is of course that i can actually give back funds into the community where i photographed…..the original intent of the $2. version in 1967…you may remember i did the same thing for (based on a true story) giving away free copies of the magazine in Rio in the communities where i photographed….for me, actually the best thing i have ever done as a photographer…i think i will feel the same about this….

    by now you surely must know i am not a biz guy….in the new world order and as a self publisher i do have to do a bit of promo so i can live to shoot another day…..so break even is fine for me….after all i end up with another book…nobody checks anyone’s bank balance to determine their legacy in this craft this art…

    besides, Cheerios and Raman noodles are not really so bad!

    still hope we can meet someday….i have invited you to come into New York City on numerous occasions….we will have a workshop in early October…just stop by…and say hello…and bring your pictures from your hometown if you still working on it….i never saw the work past a certain point…

    cheers, david

  16. MARCIN

    how are you? always good to hear from you….i keep thinking i am bound to get to Poland at some point, but it just hasn’t happened…too bad…i have not seen any work from you lately…you are still shooting yes?

    you ask “what next?”…ha ha …well right now i am just trying to survive NOW…the process is: idea, shoot, make book, distribute book, do exhibits…and then new idea …and start over….i am now simply preparing for the next two weeks…hanging literally today 60×40 inch silver gelatin prints from Tell It and from Haenyeo also a new book out….for look3.org after that i want to take the summer off and swim and ride my bike….i have been going pretty non stop for the last months..by september i will have a new project….could be any one of about three ideas i have….or even something i have not thought of yet…..that is what swimming and bike riding will help to determine….you can be sure i will embark on something…

    again, always nice to hear from you Marcin…take good care my friend…

    cheers, david


    oh i am really torn about having the collector box out of reach for so many….but i hope that a few museums and universities will have it for many to see….i will donate the collector version to some selected public educational foundations etc so that many will be able to see it…you can see clearly i am sure it was crazy expensive to produce….there isn’t one off the shelf item in there…everything had to be custom made….the story of the black bag building is a story by itself ….same with the replica….anyway, when you come see me , you will see it….

    ok, gotta go hang prints…..

    Taco Bell three crunchy tacos works for me..with that Fire sauce….

    cheers, david


    do you mean why did i lose touch with the Liggins family? easy answer…at the time i was in grad school and probably more poor than the Liggins family…i had a wife and new baby and spent all the family money, about 400 bucks, on film and paper to do the essay…then i went back to school in Missouri…no internet, they had no phone…..time went on and on….no way to keep in touch really and life went on for 48 years…both Charley Hoffheimer and i not only lost touch but after that much time forgot their names….for some reason we did not publish their names in the original book…nor did the local newspaper who did a story about it at the time…none of us can imagine why this was…we think now that because the Liggins were being shown as a disadvantaged family in the ghetto, that they did not want their names published or something like that…because very very unusual the newspaper did not use their names…we can only guess…nobody seems to remember why …..yet now i have reconnected because the same newspaper helped me to “find” them….i am bringing Lois Liggins , the cover girl , to LOOK3 as my guest and at my expense…she was a great little personality at age 7 when i photographed her and is now as well at age 56….so its just the coolest back story….the nicest circle…

    cheers, david

  19. David, hopefully the New York Public Library will get a copy. They are a great resource for top flight photo books. That’s where I saw Salgado’s work and I’m pretty sure it’s where I saw your Divided Soul and Cuba. Personally, I was surprised you were able to hit the $60 price point. I was expecting $90, minimum.

    Anyway, congrats. It looks like fantastic work and I look forward to seeing it in its entirety.

  20. David,

    I am very well, thank you. I hope we will meet someday if not in Poland maybe somewhere in Europe. I still hope so.
    Yes, I am still shooting, almost every day. Nothing special, some conceptual work, some my own little experiments with camera. you can see some unselected photos here: http://marcin-luczkowski.tumblr.com/

    I think you are not try to survive, but you are like a big fish in blue ocean. you born for it. Am I right? :)
    I’ve seen “Jeju Haenyeo” book lately at magum web page. I don’t know why I find it disturbing, like Yasunari Kawabata’s stories, only in Korea.

    And now summer is comming, so swimming and biking are the best ideas of all. Best time for life and for photography.

    Best regards, marcin

  21. a civilian-mass audience

    What not to LOVE ? !!!

    The Universe is working. We are BURNING and “tell it like it is” is the Living Proof…!!!

    Happy Birthday MR.HARVEY , Happy Birthday BURNIANS…LOOK three times !!! and YOU will see…

    YOU ARE going to “fly”again …



  22. David,

    This looks great! Hoping to pick up a copy of the book from you at Look3 this year, I assume you will be selling a few during the opening? or is it better to order online before I head out east?

    I am certainly looking forward to the festival, something I have wanted to attend for many years. Decided this was the year!

    All the Best, Jeremy

  23. a civilian-mass audience

    I know,I am an early riser…Birthday is on 6th and I live in the Easter time zone…with limited wi fi


  24. I had the opportunity to hold and view the new version of Tell It Like It Is a few weeks ago, and it is wonderful. Get one, if you haven’t already.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone at LOOK3.

    andrew b.

  25. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” ― James Baldwin

    “In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again.” ― James Agee

    “Some years there exists a wanting to escape—
    you, floating above your certain ache—
    still the ache coexists.
    Call that the immanent you—

    You are you even before you
    grow into understanding you
    are not anyone, worthless,
    not worth you.

    Even as your own weight insists
    you are here, fighting off
    the weight of nonexistence.

    And still this life parts your lids, you see
    you seeing your extending hand

    as a falling wave— “–Claudia Rankine, from “Citizen”

    This afternoon, slightly hobbled and wearied after a visit to the Doctors, I nearly tripped over a large, rectangular envelope leaning against my apartment door, like a joist pole. My first thought was, ‘why the fuck did the postman leave this here’ which was quickly swallowed up by the euphoria and recognition as to what that yellow’d and bumper=crunched envelop was…..it must surely be the book I’ve patiently waited for for almost 7 years to see lighten my doorway….

    Tell It Like It Is

    I’ve written many times before about my own selfish reasons why I had always hoped that this small-in-scale but outersized-in-heart book should be republished and I shall spare the readers all the reasons I’d previously written (it is iconic, it is filled with love and optimism, honed by a dreamer who refused to see the scalped lighting and fractured light as poverty but instead as familiar, familial and elegant) but instead wish to recount something simple and truthful: the constellation of seeing as it plays itself upon the stars of both our daily macadam (all that chalk and skip-roping bites and pigeon shit and southern collards) and the firmament of each of our imaginations regardless of skin or material taxonomy or age or distance from the sea.

    Look carefully and you might miss the small hole knived into the bottom of the child’s shoe, bored out from wear and excitement and inability to shoe a new and yet you may be forgiven for not have noticing that for it is the power of her pack and her beautiful chalkline country she has drawn upon her dirtied, glass-repaired street, the nation of which she is emperor and god and that she is gazing toward her own reign, for she sits inside that white-lined nation, a church and a constellation of her own making and the hole in the shoe does not matter, and the shorn sleeves in her backward dress do not matter and the cigarette detritus and the tar stain and the splatter of trucks do not matter for she is not impoverish but is filled by knowing and we, most of us, have failed to see that…..

    what I love about David’s book, as I love with the best of his work, is not an annexing or refusal of the sorrow and the poverty that surrounds but the his refusal to kowtow to it, a refusal to turn people and place into objects, a refusal to bend toward political or aesthetic cynicism and cleverness. Instead, here at the very beginning of his life as a photographer are all the characteristics and faces and lives that shall mark out his entire live as a photographer as a father as a mentor as a friend: that irrevocable believe in connecting, born out of a deep well of love that was birth’d by loneliness and sorrow.

    And what I am struck again by in this book are the children. David’s ability and insight into the lives of strong and unwavering children for in truth, as I have written before, each of the great portraits of children that make up his life’s work, be it in Cuba or Mexico or Vietnam or Korea or Portugal or Brazil, each of those children are in truth David. Not the David as ‘artist’ but the real David who in many ways did not grow up or rather did not discard that strength and believe and luminous imagination, even through suffering, that all children possess. for the children, until they are made afold by adults and life and society’s cruelty and ignorance, possess something that is akin to the reign of the stars: unmovable even from gravity’s devouring hunger.

    And while the Liggins family is ‘stuffed’ into a small apartment in a ‘ghetto’ (how horrid and sociologically empty and spiritually patronizing that word seems to me) in Norfolk, Va, 1967, they are far far from caged, for in these pictures and in this family there is an abiding strength, not the strength of ‘the other’ but the strength of what character means, what utility and autonomy means and in not one picture are they objects, in not one picture are they sociological/political representations but strong, powerful selves: a family that cannot be defined by either the narrowness of our imaginations or the falling away of the floorboards

    and watch that child skateboard, far far away from the oceans of California……

    In the end, Tell It Like It Is is not a study of poverty but something much closer to Agee/Walkers ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’, for it contains a simple truth and that truth is not about poverty (though that is surely part of the story) or segregation (though that is part of the story) or history of folk in Norfolk and in the South and in the US (though that is part of the story) but is about something much simpler and much much harder to relate in our world of objectification and effigy, sociological, political, existential, and it is this:

    show me the person who sees not with his eyes but with his body and his head and his bones and I shall show you a person who builds homes in community with others….

    What is most remarkable to me wast that at a time when a nation was tearing itself (and continues to saddle itself with suppression) over poverty and inequality and hatred and ill-gotten gains, at a time when the world of photography (and continues to do so to this day) charts and sells in cliche and tropes and colonial patronizing imagery, here stands a book (ahead of its time) that spoke to the character of not a nation (thought that too) but to the character of a family….

    and past the dangling black wire and the ship-wreck walls and the crowded sink and the sagging porch, there is something transcendent and aglow. And I shall name it: song.

    Remember that young skateborder, remember those kids holding hands, remember that girl building her church and stars and nation, for she was once you.

    How far have we lost to have forgotten that….

    but it rises and flags, again


  26. a civilian-mass audience

    BRIANFRANK…Rock on amigo…I view,I share…I will try to donate but for now I can donate 3 chickens…(I will “TELL IT LIKE IT IS” ,hard times in Grecolandia) …same goes for PANO’S book too…

    Viva BURNIANS!!!

  27. David,

    just got my copy in the mail yesterday!!!….about to have a cup of coffee and a long session with it this morning.

    Thanks much!


  28. Pingback: Monday Masters : David Alan Harvey – yuri photography

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