Dave Heath in his own emotionally charged photographs and curated slide shows, often explores alienation in North American society. His work draws loosely from his own personal experiences as an orphan and as an American combat soldier in the Korean War.
Heath began photographing during the late 1940s. He briefly studied art at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Institute of Design in Chicago, supporting himself as an assistant to commercial photographers. By 1959, Heath was in New York where he studied with the ground-breaking photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. His subsequent work has been highly influenced by Smith's humanistic tone and emphasis on the photographic narrative.
Heath first came to prominence with the 1963 exhibition (and 1965 publication) A Dialogue with Solitude, a moving series of black and white images addressing contemporary isolation. Heath subsequently won two Guggenheim Fellowships. In the 1970s, after moving to Toronto, Heath began experimenting with Polaroid technology and produced a series of narrative works under the title Songs of Innocence.
In addition, Dave Heath has mounted several thematic slide presentations using vernacular photographs including Le Grand album ordinaire (1973) and Ars Moriendi (1980). In 1981 the National Gallery of Canada mounted an exhibition of the two series, A Dialogue with Solitude and Songs of Innocence IV. Since that time, Heath has exhibited across the United States and Canada. His photographs are represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House (Rochester, NY), and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, among other institutions. From 1970 until 1997, Heath taught photography at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto. Since 2001, Heath has been producing digital color work, a selection of which was published in his book, Dave Heath's Art Show, in 2007.
Heath's publications include A Dialogue with Solitude (2000), Korea Photographs: 1953-1954 (2004), Multitude Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath (2015), and Washington Square (2016).