Thomas Dublin and Melissa Doak


This retrospective explores the life and work of George Harvan of Lansford, Pennsylvania, a remarkable documentary photographer. The son of a Slovak-born miner, Harvan spent over 50 years recording the work and community life of the last generation of underground miners in the anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania. This documentary record speaks to the resilience and dignity of men and women living hard lives in a region hit by catastrophic economic decline: it is one man's quest to record and present those times and that spirit to more than a regional audience.

Although Harvan's photographs are well-known and well-respected locally, they have not received the broader recognition they merit. This on-line presentation uses multiple resources to bring George Harvan's work to a wider audience. Viewers and readers have three overlapping avenues through which to explore the legacy of George Harvan: a photo exhibition, an oral history, and a historical essay. Each route offers multiple entry points into the array of visual, oral, and textual resources presented in this electronic retrospective. Each, we trust, takes advantage of the rich possibilities for multimedia history offered by the World Wide Web and online publishing. We are grateful for this opportunity to bring George Harvan's story and photography to a broader public.

Central to appreciating Harvan's achievements is the major online exhibition of almost 280 photographs shot between 1946 and 1999. Organized in roughly chronological order, the exhibition brings together for the first time the full range of Harvan's work—from his earliest professional photographs shot in occupied Japan, through his extensive documentation of underground mining in the Panther Valley, to more recent experimental work with Polaroid and pinhole photography. Text and audio explications by George Harvan accompany the photographs, allowing him to reflect on his life and explain his techniques and goals as a documentary photographer.

Harvan's personal life and professional development are detailed in extensive text and audio excerpts from a series of five interviews conducted between May 1997 and January 1998. In them, Harvan describes his upbringing in the mining town of Lansford, Pennsylvania, his discovery of documentary photography while serving in World War II, and his fifty-year career following his 1947 return to Lansford. The edited transcripts include Harvan family photographs as well as links to the photos Harvan discusses in the interviews. Also, for those interested in listening to the original interviews, there are links to audio segments of those recordings.

Finally, we offer an essay that places Harvan within a historical and photographic context. We examine how his documentary photography shows the influence of important currents in the broader cultural history of the nation—while at the same time faithfully reflecting the local ethnic and regional culture from which it emerged. Like the retrospective as a whole, the essay draws heavily on visual evidence, making numerous hypertext links to photographs and World Wide Web sites in presenting its case.

George Harvan repeatedly turned down professional opportunities that would have taken him from his roots in the Pennsylvania anthracite region; nonetheless, he found ample opportunities for growth and artistic expression. He created a unique photographic record, one that illuminates human struggles while revealing the best of human possibilities. Join with us in exploring this record; we are confident you will be awed by the vision of this most modest of men.

  Menu and selection of photographs from Harvan exhibit.
To take full advantage of the audio and navigation features of this online edition, viewers will need recent versions of an internet browser, such as Netscape Navigator 4.5 or Internet Explorer 4.7 or higher, with an accompanying Real Audio plug-in (available at:

Harvan Home
Photo Exhibit
Oral History
Historical Essay

Miner's Son, Miners' Photographer: The Life and Work of George Harvan
Copyright © 2000, 2001 by The Journal for MultiMedia History