The Magnum Opus of David Alan Harvey

David Alan Harvey. Photo by CRYSTAL LUDWICK

David Alan Harvey. Photo by CRYSTAL LUDWICK

Because people have long realized their unique power to tell stories in an instant, photographs are seemingly ubiquitous. They advertise our deepest desires and our most whimsical impulse buys. Hundreds of thousands of them make up the television and film we watch. They’re all over the publication you hold in your hand. When you see a photo that is art, however, you know it, and it takes your breath away.

Galleries bring photos and other forms of art together for people who seldom have the opportunity to see such things. In the case of Paul Paletti Gallery, their collection of rare photographs takes residence in, of all places, a law office.

Founded in July 2001 by attorney and photography collector Paul Paletti, the gallery formed soon after the office building on Market Street was purchased by Paletti and his partners for their practice. Its debut to the Louisville community came to be with its participation in the second Photo Biennial, showing the photographs of Rolfe Horn. The gallery became one of the original participants in the First Friday Trolley Hop, a public event occurring on the first Friday of each month.

A lawyer who dabbles in the decidedly right-brain realms of corporate, tax and estate law, Paletti is the last person you’d expect to feature the work of a celebrated photographer at his office. “I have a background in photography,” reveals Paletti. “I have a bachelor of fine arts and master’s in photography, but I never actually tried to make a living out of it. I started collecting photographs very cheaply. 15 years later, I picked up some auction catalogs and found other things I bought worth 10 times what I paid. Before I knew it, I had a full-fledged collection.

This collection was so noteworthy that it piqued the interest of David Alan Harvey, whose work is so illustrious that he has been featured in National Geographic, won the Magazine Photographer of the Year award as well as earned highly coveted membership in the international photography collective Magnum Photos. Needless to say, Harvey’s work is quite the shot in the arm for Paletti’s fledgling but expansive collection. One of the lawyer’s assistants jokes that if you name a photographer, a photo of his or hers is probably in there somewhere. It’s a hyperbolic statement to be sure but one that proves to be understandable once any amount of time is spent in the gallery. My brief perusal afforded me the opportunity to see the art of Michael Kenna, Ruth Orkin, Anne Noggle, David Turnley and Steve McCurry. Amongst such giants, the work of Harvey seems hardly out of place.

Citing a background of reading literature and studying photojournalism, Harvey has a rare gift for combining wild creativity with precision and technique. His work is surreal and cinematic, limitless in its approach and scope. Most evidently displaying these traits are the photos that comprise his magnum opus, a photo book entitled “(based on a true story),” a veritable Rubik’s cube of color and emotion that can be read in any order by the reader despite having an intended chronological plot line and arc.

The photos inside this work – named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker in 2012 – are reminiscent of the work of such filmmakers as Terrence Malick, Sophia Coppola and David Lynch. “I always wanted to make sure that I had a strong voice, but at the same time, I was never worried about becoming predictable. All I wanted to do was tell a story with what was right in front of me. I never had a lot of interest in the American photographers of the time I was growing up. They always needed something. War photographers needed war, Ansel Adams needed the desert. I looked more toward the painters like the French impressionists and the Dutch masters. I wanted to be inspired by what was around me, not the other way around,” says Harvey.

It certainly is a mindset that has served him well, and one can only guess where the muse behind the lens will take him next. VT

The photographs of David Alan Harvey will be on display until June 27 at Paul Paletti Gallery, located in the law offices of Sturm, Paletti and Wilson at 713 E. Market St., 40202. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, but you may also schedule an appointment by calling 502.589.9254.