Off for a Family Drive is David Alan Harvey’s 2020 retrospective book. It arrived during the slow-motion crash of Harvey’s cachet and esteem in photo land, broadly considered, and I almost hesitate to talk about it now, in 2022, long after the Twittering went silent. Will this reopen barely-scabbed-over wounds? Will it stir the sleeping giants of PhotoTwitter land? Will this get me blacklisted too?
Before I even get started, a bit of background about me and Harvey. Don’t get excited. I don’t know the man. I’ve never met the man. He likely doesn’t know me. I learned of his work back in the early 2010s when I first got into photography hard, probably thanks to Eric Kim. To be honest, I liked his work from the moment I saw it and pretty much picked up everything I could get my hands on. The reprint of his Tell it Like it Is was the first unboxing/review on this blog and one of the first 50 or so books I bought; (based on a true story) was, for many years, the most expensive photobook I bought, and remains a favorite.
Some years ago, Harvey started a Patreon and I joined for a bit. To be honest, I didn’t get anything out of it… I often don’t get anything out of things like that, or not much anyway. The activities were set on rather short time scales, more suited for digital than film and I really never gave it a chance. The studio talks and things were interesting enough, and if you’ve never heard Harvey speak, he can be quite entertaining and more or less informative. Not only that, but to hearing him speak, seeing the way he moves and all, gave me a pretty good idea of his general attitudes. He talks and moves like an aging rockstar who reads his own press, though that sounds mean. I’m sure he’s as humble and genuine as can be both in person and in his own mind. It’s just how he appears to a stranger on the Internet, albeit one who bought 4 of his books directly from him (or Burn) and subscribed to his Patreon for a couple of years.
Anyway. On with the “review.”
It was quite interesting to watch Harvey develop this book. He did so in a few episodes of the Patreon, and I was excited for a new Harvey book.
From what I remember of the handful or so of Instagram Lives I managed to catch 3 or 4 years ago (read: I probably have it all wrong), the idea for the book began as an idea for a new monograph, tentatively titled Beach Games. He shared a few dummy versions (though only the exteriors) and talked about paper choice and cover stock and all. Given that this was back when I though I might make a photobook, I quite appreciated it, but wanted more about sequencing and all. This is what led me to join the Patreon: I hoped for more in depth discussion. And there was, more or less, but it all happened at times where I couldn’t attend live for various reasons, so my questions went unasked and unanswered.
Anyway. So there was discussion of Beach Games and then the next thing I knew, Harvey announced the Off for a Family Drive book. I hemmed and hawed for a bit, then ordered a copy, kind of expecting something like the mock-ups and ideas Harvey shared in various media. What I received, was this retrospective book, and it was my misunderstanding entirely, and not really anything that Harvey said or even really suggested at all.
For a retrospective-type book, Off for a Family Drive is sorta different. I’m sure the images are sequenced very carefully, and at first glance they seem shoved together at random, with work from Cuba, Tell it Like it Is, (based on a true story), (all of which I have), scattered throughout, next to images I don’t recognize, probably from Divided Soul and Living Proof (which I don’t have and won’t acquire). I should look through it again, and will one day. I’m sure there’s something to the sequence that’s just not obvious on first (or 5th) glance.
One clear sequence, and a welcome one as it includes images I hadn’t seen before: Harvey’s first photobook (or a selection from anyway), which he produced as a youngster and gave to his grandparents for Christmas: “The A.B. Harvey’s ’58.”
The paper is a nice matte, almost construction-paper-looking stock, black, which works well with Harvey’s imagery. It comes in an oversized box, and the box my copy lives in came with a tear in one corner, just like the box that (based on a true story) came with… I suspect someone is a bit heavy handed in the box-assembly section of Burn… Anyway. The book is put together well and I appreciate Harvey’s work, more or less, so it’ll look good wedged onto the shelves next to Cuba and (based on a true story).
Given Harvey’s rockstar status, it’s unsurprising to find the book out of stock everywhere. If you see a copy on eBay for $185 and are tempted, reach out and you can have mine for, say, $150, shipped…
Given Harvey’s #metoo status, I won’t link to his site or to Burn or @him when I plug this on Insta, if I plug this on Insta… I even hesitate to broadcast to the Twitters… I think Harvey’s mostly old news now, so hopefully I don’t make too many waves. And, for the record, his behavior with various interns and employees and strangers as reported is inexcusable. That it is unsurprising from someone like Harvey, is a national shame, but it is unsurprising. That his behavior doesn’t much take away, for me, from the work is perhaps my failure as a moral/ethical human and may, indeed, damn me in the sight of some. And I seek only the forgiveness and mercy of Allah.