Acclaimed Photographer Roy DeCarava dies at 89

October 29, 2009 · Print This Article

Acclaimed photographer Roy DeCarava, known for his empathetic images of the everyday lives of African Americans in Harlem, died last Tuesday at the age of 89. From his obituary in the L.A. Times:
DeCarava (pronounced Dee-cuh-RAH-vah) photographed Harlem during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s with an insider’s view of the subway stations, restaurants, apartments and especially the people who lived in the predominantly African American neighborhood.

He also was well known for his candid shots of jazz musicians — many of them taken in smoky clubs using only available light. Shadow and darkness became hallmarks of DeCarava’s style.

“Roy was one of the all-time great photographers,” Arthur Ollman, founding director of the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, said in 2005. “His photographs provided a vision of African American life that members of the white fine art photography establishment could not have accessed on their own.”

DeCarava’s first major exhibit was at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego in 1986. Ten years later, he was the subject of a one-man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

“What’s extraordinary about the pictures is the way they capture his lyrical sense of life,” Jonathan Galassi, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, said in a 1996 interview with ABC.

“You see pain, you see anger and you see an extraordinary quality of tenderness,” Galassi said in a separate interview with CBS.

You can also read John Sevigney’s tribute to de Carava this month in Guernica. I interviewed Mr. DeCarava many years ago for Artweek and was struck by his kind and gentle presence. May he rest in peace.
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Roy DeCarava, Nightfeeding, 1952

Roy DeCarava, Graduation, 1949

Roy DeCarava, Graduation, 1949

Roy DeCarava, Freedom.

Roy DeCarava, Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C., 1963

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