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The Historical Essay


George Harvan, the son of a Slovak-born miner from Lansford, Pennsylvania, spent over fifty years documenting the decline of the underground coalmining industry in the anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania. He also photographed a wide range of scenes across his native state throughout the second half of the twentieth century.

Harvan worked in the documentary tradition of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, and other photographers of the Farm Security Administration during the New Deal, yet Harvan is unusual in that he brings an insider's perspective to his work in northeastern Pennsylvania. He captures the lives of miners with an intimacy born of his lifelong presence in the region and a respect that reflects the values and identity he shares with his subjects.

This essay explores Harvan's roots in the Panther Valley, discusses how he became a photographer, and analyzes changes in his approach to his craft over time. Insights into the unique contributions of Harvan's work are provided through comparison with other documentary photographers working during the New Deal and in the decades after World War II. We explore how his photographs expose the social consequences of economic decline in the Pennsylvania anthracite region even as they capture the character of area residents in the face of catastrophic economic decline

The Historical Essay includes links to photographs discussed in the essay, relevant portions of oral history interviews, or Web sites related to the essay. Photographs and linked Web sites will appear in new windows which you can close when you are ready to return to the essay. From the oral history segments, use the back button on your browser to return to the text of the historical essay.

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Miner's Son, Miners' Photographer: The Life and Work of George Harvan
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