The Oral History
Documentary photography does not exist in a vacuum. George Harvan's portfolio emerged photograph by photograph, one project after another. The photographs and projects that occupied him were reflections of the world he lived in and the experiences that shaped him. Since 1946, when he began taking professional photographs in occupied Japan, Harvan has accumulated an impressive body of work. That work, especially his photos of the last generation of underground miners in Pennsylvania's anthracite region merits critical attention.
I began to record a series of recorded oral history interviews with George Harvan in May 1997. I wanted to better understand his artistic evolution, and I sensed others would benefit from a fuller appreciation of his life story as well. We taped about seven hours of interviews in five sessions between May 1997 and January 1998. Initially George Harvan talked about his life and the experiences that shaped his emergence and development as a photographer. Later he focused on specific projects and reflected on what he had tried to do and what he thought he had accomplished over his extended career.
After transcribing the taped interviews, I gave him an opportunity to edit the transcripts and to elaborate on our discussions. Possessing a clear idea of the story he wanted to tell, and not always satisfied with his first oral efforts, Harvan revised the interview transcripts extensively. The resulting edited transcripts total 272 double-spaced pages and offer a rich primary source on his life and professional work.
In preparing this retrospective, I have further edited the transcripts. I have concentrated on Harvan's life and his thoughts about his work and photography in general. I edited out some extended portions about other Harvan family members and occasionally combined some of Harvan's responses. I have not added or changed any words from the edited versions of the interview transcripts George Harvan himself prepared. Most of the original questions and conversation that occurred during the interviews remain. I am hopeful readers will benefit from a clear sense of the context in which Harvan constructed his own narrative about his life and work.
The edited interviews
are reproduced here in text and audio formats. The edited texts
are supplemented with Harvan family photographs and hypertext links
to significant portions of his photographic work. To permit readers
to hear Harvan's responses in their original, unedited form, we
include audio excerpts from each interview as well. Together, Harvan's
words and images offer a rich source for future cultural and social
historians trying to understand the broader meaning of industrial
decline in Pennsylvania's anthracite region in the twentieth century.
Oral History Interviews
Interview 1, May 29, 1997:
Interview 2, May 30, 1997:
Childhood, Youth and Family, 1921-1941.
Family, World War II, and First Photography.
Interview 3, June 18, 1997:Interview 4, June 20, 1997:
Work in Japan, Returning to the Anthracite Region, and Photographic Career, 1946-1997.
Photographic Projects, 1959-1995.
Interview 5, January 7, 1998:
Experimental Photography in the 1990s and Closing Thoughts.