Third Interview, June 18, 1997: Work in Japan, Returning
to the Anthracite Region, and Photographic Career, 1946-1997
I had mentioned trying to get into the Art Center, in Los Angeles, and the reason I pursued that was because one of the fellows at the lab was from New York City, he was there prior to me, and was a good photographer. He got me interested in the Art Center, and photography as an art form. I learned how to operate the Speed Graphic from him, because I never participated in any photography school. Where he would decide to do some work, he would take just two or three holders, and take four or six shots. He often said, "That's enough." Imagine going out all day and taking just four shots. Some days he'd come back and take only two. He was a very critical and deliberate photographer. Dublin: The Speed Graphic was a four by five format?
If you're familiar with the photographs of Weegee, the New York street photographer, who photographed a lot of robberies and murders and life on the streets of that city. He worked with a Speed Graphic and a single flash gun. It was the standard, four by five. You had to load holders, no roll film back then, you had to pull the slide, cock the shutter, and put the flash bulb in, focus and shoot. It required a lot of thinking. It's a lot easier with modern cameras. Dublin: So you could see why a person would say that he would take four pictures in a day, not four rolls of pictures in a day. Harvan: Yes, well, the reason why he did that, also was he tried to train himself just to take exactly what he wanted making sure the light was right, the composition pleasing, and everything else that made up a good photograph. Even nowadays, when you go out and set up a big view camera, an eight by ten, you want to make sure everything comes together, because you can't make a lot of exposures. You might take two or three, and that's it. It's a different type of photography. Then, when the small cameras became popular, naturally, with Life magazine leading the way, photographers exposed a lot more film. They were more interested in getting a fleeting emotion or expression, than they were in composition or detail. If they could get that one shot that told the story, they were satisfied -- whether it took them two rolls or three rolls or more. Dublin: And there's something that's potentially a little more spontaneous about that. It's a little less set-up. Harvan: Right. You're not setting your camera up on a tripod or other support. Everything is in motion. And sometimes, during the shoot, there's something that really grabs you, and that's the image they were looking for.
But the assignments were not to my liking too well. You did a lot of parties, groups, and Lions Clubs officers, and things like that. There were a number of good assignments. At times you went out with the police looking for murder suspects and a few other things like that, but this was not the norm. Dublin: A lot of it was sort of society pages? Harvan: Yeah, and I think what soured me the most about the job was -- I think I mentioned this to you before -- about how I used the thirty-five millimeter camera on an assignment once. Very few people were using thirty-five millimeter camera in news work at the time, but Rose had one -- a Leica. In fact, that was the Leica shown in that magazine, "People Today." One day, I was sent out to do an assignment of kids in a classroom, children in kindergarten, and I took the thirty-five millimeter along and shot the assignment in available light, which was unusual for the paper. Everybody was using flash bulbs and big film, and kind of posed things. But this was a spontaneous affair, so I used the small camera. I came back and printed the job. We had an old editor called Ned McGeddigan, who was in his eighties, he had these Ben Franklin glasses on his nose, he'd look down at the pictures, looked at me, and looked down at the pictures, and looked at me, and started going through them. And in the meantime, my boss came in -- Frank Marstellar -- walked in the office. And he said, "Frank, why can't we always get pictures like this?" Frank didn't know what to say, because he had a standard formula that you had to pose everything and hold the flash off at a forty-five degree angle, you couldn't have it on the camera, it had to be off it. And that's standard, I mean, if you did vary from that, you heard about it. I guess I did the wrong thing by doing this. I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. I thought I was coming back with some good pictures. Dublin: And the person you showed them to liked them? Harvan: Yeah, the editor, he thought they were great. He wanted to know why he couldn't get more like these -- spontaneous pictures. Well, when I got back to the office, he told me not to ever do that again. Dublin: He was old-school. Harvan: Old-school, yeah. And then things started to turn negative and I didn't want to continue to work in this environment. I didn't stay there very long. They kind of persuaded me to go back to Lansford if I wanted to. In the meantime, I met Jean [Gallagher] and we started to date. And we got married and so that's another reason why I stayed around here.
Dublin: Now what was it like coming back to Lansford, after having been away? You were away from about '42 to '47. That's longer than most people were away.Harvan: Yes, it was. The beginning was very strange. Everything seemed so small and confined. And I still wasn't over my sicknesses real well. I was having bouts with malaria and headaches. I felt real bad at times, and I really didn't know what I was going to do until I started with the newspaper. But for the first couple of months, it was strange. Like I said, when I walked into this house, the rooms looked so small, the stairs were so narrow. After being out in the big Pacific, everything looks small; it was so different.
Dublin: But you didn't have an urge -- even when the photography school, the art school, got postponed -- it sounds like you didn't actually have an urge to travel a bit or to go someplace else.
Harvan: Well, if I hadn't started with the newspaper, I probably would have gone to L.A. But as I said, in the meantime, I started to date Jean. And she didn't particularly -- she was a homebody -- she didn't want to leave. Later on, when I left the Morning Call, I started to freelance and I started to do things around town here, commercial work, etc. Ted Berger, who used to work for the Morning Call in Lansford, went to Allentown, worked for the Morning Call there, and then . . . he started his own public relations firm, and he got the coal company account, the LC&N account. Anytime he needed pictures, he would contact me, and that's how I got to go down into the mines, and especially the Coaldale collieries. . . . When he got the coal account, every time he needed pictures for annual reports, publicity, or other promotions, as I said, he would call me and tell me to go inside the mines and get whatever he needed. So that's how I got into the mines, coal companies were like other big companies, they didn't allow many photographers on their grounds. They didn't want anybody roaming around with cameras, as there were a lot of things they didn't want people to see. But this was an opportunity that I had, and that's how I was able to accumulate a fair amount of negatives when the LC&N was operating. And it wasn't that many years. It was only about four years, really.
Dublin: You're talking . . . until April of '54. You probably started, maybe around 1950, or '51.
Dublin: So because you were connected with Berger, you had entree?
Harvan: Right. I also took a lot of pictures I wasn't supposed to, but I felt, as long as I'm down there, and if it looks interesting, I shot it. I used a Speed Graphic at the beginning, and it was kind of a cumbersome thing to take down in the mines, and we were using flash bulbs, which was illegal. And the flash gun had to be connected to the shutter with a relay, and sometimes your bulb would go off and then you could hear the shutter going off, and I knew that, "I lost that shot." If I had all the shots that I lost, I'd probably have twice as many negatives as I do now. You run into all kinds of conditions in the mines, especially real down deep, you know it's dirty, and dusty, and sometimes it's damp, and then your camera gets a lot of moisture on it. And when you went from hot to cold you would get condensation on the lens, and the electrical contacts didn't work properly. So it was a trial-by-error thing, as there was no books written on how to take pictures in coal mines.
Dublin: So if we look at the company's annual reports in the last few years, the chances are pretty good that any mine photo that's in there, you took.
Oh yeah, the last four or
five years. And then they had a lot of tours going in for visitors, and
they also had other promotions. I remember going to Bermuda once, with
a group of coal dealers. It was a pretty good company. But they did spend
a lot of money wastefully.
Dublin: You had a life's work that has such an integrity and a core that expresses you, and also this area from which you come, and you might not have felt able to do that, photographing the art works at the National Gallery, or the visitors.
Harvan: Probably not. It was a lot different, sure. It was a different type of work. Sometimes you feel a job's a job. You have to make a living for your family. I was a little down because I was always interested in art, to a certain degree, looking at good paintings and prints. I was kind of disappointed when she didn't want to go, but maybe it worked out for the better.
Dublin: Now, in this period, did you do any formal training? Photography school, art school . . .
Harvan: I never had any training at all, Tom. I never went to a photo school -- not even to a workshop -- in my whole life.
Dublin: So you picked these skills up doing the work, working in the darkroom on your own materials?
Harvan: Yes, it was all through experience. I had this darkroom up on Bertsch Street where I had the little shop, and then I also had one down in the basement. I'd work at night, doing my personal work. I learned through experience, reading magazines and observing. I had a high school education and that was it.
Dublin: Did you become familiar with contemporary photography?
Not at that time, no. I wasn't
aware of any other photographers in Lansford, or in the coal region. About
'59 or '60, I become acquainted with the New York scene, that's when I
started to sell pictures to magazines. I also sold to the Saturday
Evening Post in Philadelphia. At this time I became aware of other
photographers. I was offered a job with Popular Photography in
New York, they had an office on Park Avenue, and John Derniak was the
editor. I learned from him about other photographers, like Edward Weston.
I had no idea who Edward Weston was. One day he sent me up to a gallery
uptown and said, "They have some Edward Westons, if you want to see good
work." I asked him how my printing was, compared to other photographers,
he said, "It's good. But it could be a lot better." So I went up to this
gallery, where this fellow had about fifteen Westons on a wall. Weston
printed all by contact, eight by ten inch prints. And I thought they were
beautiful, really, absolutely beautiful, never saw anything like them
and I was really impressed.
Dublin: Did you find that you were able to, in fact, come back here, and as you did work in the dark room, that you would try to get some of those effects, were you trying to get that contrast?
Harvan: Not so much that, when you make a print and you might make it too gray or light, and you don't have enough body to make it effective, you feel, maybe I should print it darker, or I should print it deeper, or something like that. But you don't know this until you see another original print. You can't judge from some printing in books, which sometimes is terrible. But then you see the original print, and there's a lot more to see. That's how I learned, by studying other photographs. You talk about formal training -- that was it, looking at other, original photographs by so-called masters. Some of the Westons that I could have bought for thirty-five dollars, the pepper and the shell, they go for seventy thousand dollars now. . . .
Harvan: Well, yeah, because I was making so much. It was great to make all this money, to make four hundred dollars a week or something like that, in those days, for maybe two days' work, was great. But when the coal company closed, the LC&N ceased operating, I had to find a job. I knew Jackie Nochton, who lived down the street here. Bethlehem Steel had two photo labs -- a real estate photo lab, and the advertising lab. He worked for the real estate lab, and informed me that, "there's an opening in the other lab." So he told me, "Why don't you go to Bethlehem Steel, and they might have a job for you." So I took some of my mine photographs to Bethlehem and met a fellow by the name of Zollie Bero, who was head of the lab. He said, "We can't use pictures like this. They're just too black, too dark." So he said, "Why don't you fill out an application and leave it here." I didn't think I'd get the job. In the meantime, a fellow came in from New York, Orlan Donaldson, who took Bero's place. I had left some of the photographs there and when he saw the photographs, he immediately called me. And this was December, I guess, of '54. He offered me the job, but he wanted me to start immediately. I said, "I can't. I can't start until after the holidays." He said, "We need you now." I said, "Well, I gotta wait until after -- I promised a lot of pictures for the holidays to people. I can start after the first of January." He said, "Well, we'll have to find someone else." I said, "Okay." But after the first, he called, and he said, "If you still want the job, come on down." So that's how I started to work with Bethlehem Steel. It was a good experience and I enjoyed it.
Dublin: Did you ever do any work in the steel mills comparable to the kind of photography you'd done in the mines?
No, not really. I was pretty
close to Orlan. He was a Columbia graduate, worked with Arthur Rothstein,
he went to school with him. He knew a lot of photographers in New York
City and worked with them before he came to Bethlehem. He worked with
fashion photographers like Horst and Horst, and Louise Dahl Wolfe -- big
fashion photographer in New York at the time. We often talked about me
going into the steel mills with a small camera and recording the men working
at their jobs. If they wanted a shot for an annual report or advertisement,
they would dress it up. They would paint the machinery, clean it up, and
stage it, more or less.
Dublin: There was someone above your boss who didn't want that kind of photography taken?
Harvan: Yes, there were a number of people above him who didn't see eye to eye with him. He was a kind of a radical type of guy. He realized this work should be done, but he couldn't do much about it. He would jeopardize -- in fact, later on, he did jeopardize his job and he was fired. Because he was, basically a strong person and he had a particular way he wanted to run the photo lab. Other people thought he should run it differently. We became very good friends. I never made that much money, really, there, but he did give me a lot of liberty -- I was like my own boss.
Dublin: How long did you work for Bethlehem Steel?
Harvan: Well, I worked about twenty-five years, but I did a lot of things in-between, in my spare time. If I would go to do a job for Bethlehem Steel, like, in Lancaster County, I made sure that I photographed Lancaster County with my own camera.
Dublin: That's when you did the Amish?
Harvan: I started to, yeah. If did a job on wire rope or something, around the collieries or mines, I'd always shoot other things on my own, but Orlan allowed it. He didn't care, in fact, he encouraged me. Arthur Rothstein was in Bethlehem and he said, "Arthur is coming up to the lab so bring in some of your photographs. I want to show them to him." At the time, he had retired from Look magazine, and was now the editor of Infinity magazine. It was a magazine put out by the association for magazine photographers, and he was in charge. It was a nice, classy magazine. He really liked the photographs. He put one on the cover with about ten inside of the last issue printed. It was only through my boss's efforts, who suggested to me to bring in the photographs that I was able to get the photos published. He encouraged me to exhibit my photographs, I could print them at the lab, as long as I didn't sell them, but I could exhibit them.
Dublin: So it was really a nice environment for you.
Harvan: Sure . . . if I was late in the morning, I had no problem. And if I stayed late and wanted to do some printing, I had no problem doing so.
Dublin: And what was the formal work that you did for Bethlehem?
Harvan: I did everything photographically. I did portraits of the big bosses, photos for annual reports. Orlan thought I could do portraits better than anybody else, so I had to do most of the portraits. And, later on, when we got into slide shows -- they didn't know how to put the shows together, copy art work and other duplication. So I did a lot of that work. But I would go out on assignments. We would go into a soft coal mine. That was another thing -- we'd go down with maybe two or three other people, and then we would string up a bunch of lights, and before we got through with it, it looked like a living room. They wanted to show a certain type of machinery in the mine, well-lit.
Dublin: Did you do a little bit of shooting, in that period, of Bethlehem mines here in the Panther Valley? Because they bought the mines after the mid-'60s or so.
Harvan: Yes. I did a whole series on the wire ropes, and the buildings here, and the strippings, the trucks. It was nothing really to speak of. When you work for a big company, with art directors, they have a certain way they want pictures taken, and you couldn't much deviate from it. If you tried to do it your way, they would let you know, "Well, that's not what we want." It's not like working for yourself. When you do a series of pictures on your own, you do them to suit yourself. You let your own feelings come through as much as possible.
Dublin: But it did give you that freedom to do your own work.
Harvan: I thought I had a pretty good few years. I never regretted working there.
Harvan: You see, by that time, I went to Bethlehem, and I was spending most of my time -- I was still living here, but many times I would stay at the YMCA, mostly in the wintertime. I was kind of losing track of things around the coal regions. Up until the time when the men opened up Lanscoal in '60. Then I started to get a little more interested in what they were doing. I knew most of them, all the miners. And at that time, I felt I should photograph all I can, of, the miners. I kind of realized, one of these days, it's all going to be gone -- completely. And then they opened Lanscoal -- in '60. They worked two years before they got any coal mined. And then for that ten years I went in No. 9 quite a few times to record the miners.
Dublin: Between 1960 and 1972, there was really just one underground mine operating in the Panther Valley, and that was the No. 9 mine, Lanscoal. Do you want to talk about how you got involved with that?
Dublin: And could you get a different kind of photograph in that period than you'd been able to get in the LC&N period?
Dublin: I also got the feeling from interviewing people that they really had to do all the jobs. There wasn't much of a division of labor.
Harvan: Oh, no.
Dublin: Everybody was a miner, everybody was a loader.
Harvan: That's right. For instance, they could all run the mine motor. If they had to do some carpentry work, they did that. Timbering -- they did the timbering, loading -- everything -- firing shots, whatever.
Dublin: They'd had a lot more support services when they were with LC&N.
Harvan: Yes. They had the buddy system. As a contract miner at LC&N, your helper did a lot of the drudgery work. The contract miner was the boss of his own little domain and was better paid.
Dublin: And that had changed pretty much by the Lanscoal period.
Harvan: Yeah. They would ship the coal to the breaker, in Tamaqua, and it would be processed there.
Dublin: And that would have been the Greenwood breaker?
Dublin: They were also getting up closer to retirement.
Harvan: Yes. Some of them were getting pretty old. Well, Johnny Zuzu died shortly after. He was still alive when they closed.
Dublin: My recollection is, also, that they were down to ten or twelve miners. It started in the twenties, but by the end, they were down to about half that number.
Harvan: Yes, ten or twelve. Most of them had black lung -- like Paulie Petrich who was a real good worker. I have a number of pictures of him drilling. He just deteriorated in a short time. He couldn't breathe; he died very quickly. But some of them are still going, like Mike Sabron. He's still going strong. Johnny Matyka died last year.
Dublin: Do you think that was a profit-making project?
Harvan: They made money. They made money -- not much, but they were able to continue for about ten years.
Dublin: The guys got their investment back from the two years?
Harvan: I think so. And then people say twenty dollars in '60 was a lot of money. I don't think it was for the work they did.
Dublin: Well, let's think about it. They might have worked 200 days a year, or do you think they really could have worked a whole year?
Harvan: Oh yeah, they worked the whole year.
Dublin: Well, then, you're talking about 250 days a year, so that's five thousand dollars. That's a pretty decent salary at that point in time.
Harvan: And they were all local people. They didn't have to drive forty or fifty miles to work. Stanley Stanek had a job in Stroudsburg with a construction firm and quit -- came down here worked for less money. He said, "I didn't want to drive, and I enjoy this more, and I enjoy the fellows much better." Mining, to a lot of people, looked like a dirty job, but a lot of the miners, they seemed to enjoy it. They accepted the challenge of mining coal.
Dublin: When people describe the work, whether it's Tom Strohl or Mike Sabron, describing the work -- they really took a lot of pride in it, and they were good at it. No one told them what to do. They solved problems out there, in the chute, figuring out how to do it. They had to have quite diverse skills, woodworking as well as blasting, as well as hauling.
Harvan: They had to overcome the dangerous element also . . . They had to learn how to be careful. That was another good experience for me.
I talked about the pictures of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. Much later, I used to walk along the river of the Lehigh River, with my children, Christopher and Christine. And as the late light would skim across the rocks, they would take on various shapes and forms. They started to take on another meanings, and after living with them many weekends over a couple years, they became associated with living things to me, these still rocks. I started to collect them and photograph them, and that's how I wrote that piece, "After the Fire," which revealed what this earth would look like if civilization was demolished and only the images that remained were these frozen on the rocks.
Dublin: About what date would this be, do you think?
Harvan: That was in the early '60s. Then a person from Kodak that had ran the gallery at the Grand Central Station exhibit -- wanted to have them in their Fifth Avenue Showroom. So they also were used there. They also were having a big show in the Coliseum in New York, so I had to take them to the city again. So I had three showings in New York with these pictures. Then I changed the theme of the photos a few years later, maybe about four or five years later. Cedar Crest [College] in Allentown wanted to show some pictures of mine in one of their galleries, that's when I wrote "After the Fire." I tied it in with the atomic bomb. In the 60s, people were building bomb shelters, the cold war was on and they were just afraid. There was all this talk about the atomic bomb. You look back now, a lot of it was exaggerated. It was a scare tactic. I just saw a cartoon the other day, just about a week or so ago. Some woman said, "I think it's time now, we could close up the bomb shelter." Some of these rock pictures are really scary; you can see the various images I described.
Dublin: So you were viewing them almost like fossils?
Dublin: As if it were the imprint of life before the fire.
Harvan: Yes. I could read the piece for you sometime. Maybe we could put it on tape, that little thing I wrote. Who started this, why was it started, why were all these people killed, this reaction is from someone who came from another place. How did it happen, what caused it? Is this what the people looked like? Was this the look of animals? This is what a worm looked like? That's what all these rocks photos were all about. I guess, of all the pictures I've taken, these have probably affected me more emotionally than anything, really. I mean, they had a greater effect than the Amish pictures or the mannequins or other projects, even the miners.
Dublin: It's interesting to hear you talk, and I'm also aware of the piece you wrote for the Lehigh University Art Galley catalog. It seems like there's a part of you that is a very creative writer -- that's part of what I think has affected you about those photographs is also that you wrote about it. That's the way you tell it now.
Harvan: As I said, when they first came out, they were as just plain rock faces. But I knew there was more to them than that, than plain faces. There should be a tie to something else. And then I relayed it back to the explosion at Hiroshima. "After the Fire" was just putting some words down to a set of pictures, tying them in to the photographs. I tried to find a reason why I took the pictures, why I felt this way. We could go through some of these pictures sometime. My collection of rock pictures was made along the Lehigh River, down at Jim Thorpe, and Palmerton. Some of the students at Cedar Crest made written comments which were incredible -- their feelings about the show. They felt the same way I did about the rocks.
Dublin: This was sort of the mid- to the late-'60s by the time that exhibit occurred?
Harvan: Yes. When I would get into a project, I'd stay on it for one or two years -- for how long it took. I would follow it through to completion. When I started the Amish series, it was the same way. Every chance, I'd get, whether vacation time or weekends, I would head for the Lancaster area. I would find newspapers that listed Amish auctions, or other affairs pertaining to the Amish. This would give me some leads on where to go to make photographs. I had a number of pictures published with Grace Hoyer, who is John Updike's mother. We did a piece on the Amish: she did the story and I made the photographs for Travel and Camera. I also did photos for Liberty magazine. I always photographed the Amish with respect. I never shoved my camera in their faces. They don't particularly like people photographing them. So I either did it with a long lens, which is kind of sneaky in a way, or a hidden camera. I don't think they minded it so much, as long as the camera wasn't exposed and they weren't exposed to the camera.
Dublin: So you were less obtrusive?
Dublin: This seems like a very interesting period of your life because you had the security of a regular job, and yet the independence, at times, of a freelance photographer. Not as much as if you had been a full-time freelancer, but with the kind of security that you wouldn't have had.
Dublin: So you were going to tell me about the mannequin project.
Dublin: You're really talking about the human condition. You're not talking about a mannequin.
Harvan: No. I'm talking about the human condition, how we deteriorate through the years, physically. I'm not talking mentally. Physically, how we don't look as good at sixty, as we did when we were twenty, that's for sure. That was another project that took me a little over a year to do. As I said, I have hundreds of pictures of that series; I have printed maybe about twenty that tell the story of the demise of a mannequin.
Dublin: Did a set of that appear as an exhibit appear somewhere?
Harvan: No, never. If they ever do the half-hour feature of my work . . . I definitely want to include another project that I worked on for a long time, photographing Civil War battlefields, like Gettysburg and Antietam and Charlottesville. I had a Volkswagen camper at the time and I used to take off for two, three days, four days and photograph Civil War battlefields. I would usually get up early in the morning when no tourists were out in the fields as it was the only time I could do some decent work. That was the time when you would actually get to feel the action that happened during the battle. Since you knew a little bit about how the battles were fought, you could almost hear the guns, the cries of the wounded, the horses being shot.
Dublin: So you did some reading, also, about the battles?
Dublin: You have to give your interpretation, you have to make it part of your vision and not just the absolute denotation of what it physically is.
Yes. And, at that time in
my life, I think I was at the peak of my creativity. It almost seemed
like I could go anywhere and take good pictures. You could almost feel
like you could go out in a field of grass and come back with outstanding
pictures. But it didn't last long -- there's only a certain period where
it really happens at its fullest. It never really leaves you, but . .
. as you get involved in other pursuits -- you can't donate all the time
to photography as you would like, so you lose it to an extent.
Dublin: So these are, for instance, cases where people are dying. Their children don't really want to run the farm anymore; they have to divide the things among them.
Harvan: That's right, yeah. There was so many beautiful farms and so many interesting people who came to the public sales. The older people, their expressions and moods, you would record, and their dress, and the way they reacted to the auction, generally.
Dublin: Would the people attending the auctions be mostly the Pennsylvania Dutch, or were there a lot of tourists and others looking for antiques?
Harvan: There were people looking for antiques, antique dealers, there also were collectors, but mostly there were a lot of the Pennsylvania Dutch around. They were easy to pick out as they spoke, and still speak Pennsylvania Dutch. It was kind of interesting. You couldn't understand them, but you got the flavor of what they were saying. Then you could tie in the people with outside people, or maybe you'd see an old Pennsylvania Dutch woman with a young girl, the contrast between the two. I worked on this project for years, off and on. You didn't do this every weekend, but every now and then you got an opportunity to see a good farm auction. I went to Kutztown and around Reading and Virginville, and the Lancaster area. As I said, it was kind of interesting. These are the type of projects that you pick and shoot the way you want to, and there's no one telling you how to do it, or how not to do it. And that ties in your previous statement, that I was able to do a lot of freelance work, and I wasn't really doing this to sell these pictures. I was just doing it for my self-satisfaction.
Dublin: So you would sell some, but it wasn't the reason you did it?
Harvan: No. In fact, I never really attempted to exploit them, really.
Harvan: Yeah, well, some of these projects were in the works when Lanscoal was still operating. They operated until '72. While I was taking the mine pictures, I was working on auction pictures or something like that. I was very fortunate I was able to do this too, because Jean understood what I was up to, and would allow me to take pictures, whenever I wished. I was fortunate I was able to complete most of my projects, and that was another thing that worked in my favor.
Dublin: She was obviously supportive.
Harvan: Yes. You do what you feel you have to, and if you have to do it, you do it. And I did have to do it. Photography was an important part of my life. Sometimes, it's hard to say why. You often feel, "What is so important about taking pictures?" But there is a certain something you have to get out of your system, so you make photographs. I think because I felt this way, I had to follow my feelings. This was how I was able to make the mine photographs. If I didn't have that desire, I surely wouldn't have made them. Maybe it's something you're born with. Perhaps, I was born to take pictures, I don't know.
Dublin: As a historian, I can appreciate that. Good historians are driven. I want to understand this history. I want to get the story right and share it with other people, and you want to get this story while you can. The oral history has that aspect to it. And it cuts you off at various times.
Harvan: I think so. You're driven. And you feel if you weren't doing it, that you were kind of negligent with whatever talent was given you. You should do the work.
Dublin: Do you also sometimes have the feeling that if you don't do it, it won't be done?
Harvan: Well, in a way.
Dublin: There's certainly that aspect of it, too. You bring a certain perspective to it, your talents.
Harvan: Well, there's a certain way you see pictures that no one else can see. If you write a story, only you could write it. No one else can do it for you. I don't want to be boastful, but I know there's a lot of images that I see that people don't see. First of all, you train yourself and it's just the way you feel about objects and life in general. The photos of Gettysburg, and the mannequin -- who would have the desire to follow a mannequin around for a whole year, in all kinds of weather? Like photographing a mannequin laying in the snow, with a reed across the face. Yeah, if I hadn't done it, a good number of photographs would not exist. They exist now. It's not an earth-shaking thing, but it's something that I accomplished. That's about the extent of it. Nothing's really that important to every individual, I'm sure there are some people who care less about them.
Dublin: But then you can see it as part of your own development.
Harvan: But then you wonder, how much do you develop as a photographer? I look at the Japanese pictures; I feel they're just as good as the ones I take now. You know, they were done in the '40s, and you ask yourself, "How much have you really progressed, or are you the same person just doing another project?" Technically, I feel I've learned a lot. Artistically, I don't know.
Dublin: You couldn't do the kind of restoring of the mine pictures then, that you can do now.
Dublin: So there's something in modern photography that works against the kind of range of skills.
Harvan: Yes. I wouldn't have attempted some projects where I made my own cameras. I have made 8x10 and 4x5 cameras. I would find pieces of old cameras and when I was unable to buy a certain type of camera to fill a need, I would then construct a functional camera. Perhaps I would need a camera with a wide angle lens. I would make a lightweight box and put a certain lens on it, most of them worked out in different situations. I have made a few cameras. I got into making pinhole cameras. Pinhole photography is a unique type of photography. You're taking pictures with no lenses, shutter, or film, just the small pinhole, a piece of paper instead of film for the negative. It's a very mysterious type of photography, most of the time you never know what you're going to get. The only time you really know what you have photographed is when you run this paper through the tray of developer. It doesn't look like anything you witnessed because with this type of camera, you get a panoramic effect, and everything is distorted. Ordinary things become majestic -- sometimes weird. I have gotten a little better in judging situations through the years.
Dublin: So when you say you do it on paper, you do it on photographic paper?
Dublin: Rather than putting it on negative and transferring it.
Harvan: Well, with some of my cameras I made, the paper is ten by fourteen, or close to it. You can get ten by fourteen inch film, but you'd go broke buying it. So instead of putting film in the camera, I use an ordinary piece of photo paper as a receiver of the image. Then you get a negative print. From that negative print you contact it and make the final positive print. Actually, you expose light through the paper to get a print. The photographer, Talbot, who was a pioneer in photography, made all his negatives on paper, on a salt paper, which was then printed on to another piece of paper to make a positive.
Dublin: You need an apprentice.
Harvan: Do I? [laughs]
Dublin: You need a twenty-five year old would-be photographer that you can pass this all on to.
Harvan: Perhaps, give these cameras to someone. There's three or four cameras in the case, there, that I made. That's an eight by ten camera. You see how close that lens is to the film? Well, that's how it stays, and I get a round image on an eight by ten piece of film. When George Eastman came out with his first camera, the No. 1 Kodak, it was loaded in the factory. After you exposed the roll, you sent it back to Rochester, N.Y. When the prints came back, they were round, because lenses don't give you an oblong image or a square image--the lens is round, so you get a circular image. So Kodak sent you a round picture or the entire image, 3 ½" in diameter. I got to thinking, "Why can't I make a circular image on an eight by ten piece of film, using a wide-angle lens to get a round image." I just did a series last summer in Eckley, with that eight by ten camera. I now am working on a series made with a 4x5 camera, using the same technique, most of those will be made using fallen flags in the GAR Cemetery, Summit Hill.
Dublin: So you end up printing it as a round image, and the rest stays white?
Dublin: So it will be a black circular frame around the picture?
Harvan: Yes. That format takes you way back to 1888, when Eastman came out with their original Kodak.