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.
This may be the coolest thing I’ve seen all week: Looking into the Past, a Flickr photo pool started by Jason E. Powell, is a collection of images that literally overlap past and present incarnations of everyday spaces. Photographers seek out archival images of a particular spot via old postcards, photographs, etc., then return to that spot, camera in hand, to capture it again, this time with the archival image held up to roughly coincide with the place where it once stood.
People are doing this to their own homes, to hospitals, rail stations and neighborhood joints, as well as to historic landmarks. Some of the most compelling and poignant examples from the pool include images of participants’ now-deceased relatives, or still-living friends and family members in younger days, superimposed over the spots where they were once photographed. When interviewed about the project in Wired U.K., Powell explained how the idea originated.
“I was searching around for a way to illustrate the phrase ‘modern-day equivalent’, and my original idea was to do a typical then/now shot, perhaps as a diptych or with some Photoshop work. After I printed the source imagery for my first test shots of my hometown from the Library of Congress, I went out to shoot the photographs and flashed on the idea of paying homage to another Flickr collection, Michael Hughes’ Souvenirs project, but only with historical imagery. Looking at the result, I immediately fell in love with it and decided to do a series of images.”
As far as I could tell, right now there are only seven contributions from Chicago or Illinois (see one of these photographs, by Chris Gansen, below; click on the image to be taken directly to Gansen’s Flickr page). If you’re a street photographer, urban planning buff, or collector of vintage postcards, why not do a little Eugene Atget-style detective work of your own and uncover the secret history of some of your favorite Chicago haunts. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what gets added to this fascinating pool of images.