Roy Rudolph DeCarava

Roy Rudolph DeCarava (December 9, 1919 – October 27, 2009) was an Jamaican American photographer. DeCarava and poet Langston Hughes collaborated on a notable 1955 book on life in Harlem, The Sweet Flypaper of Life. The subject of at least 15 solo exhibitions, DeCarava was known as the first African American photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship and was awarded a National Medal of Arts in 2006.

Roy DeCarava was born in Harlem in as the only child of Elfreda Ferguson, a Jamacian immigrant, who separated from DeCarava's father shortly after his birth. DeCarava lived in Harlem through many decades of important changes and development to the area. In DeCarava’s childhood, the Harlem Renaissance gave prominence to many black artists, musicians and writers. He was close to poet Langston Hughes, and would later publish a book with him titled, The Sweet Flypaper of Life, which chronicled the lives of Harlem residents.
To earn money, DeCarava began working at an early age. He continued to hold odd jobs throughout most of his career as a photographer. DeCarava graduated from Chelsea Vocational High School. Through diligence and hard work, he secured admission to The Cooper Union, but left after two years to attend classes at the Harlem Art Center.
Deciding early on that he wanted to be an artist, he began working as a painter and commercial illustrator, and many of his early photographs were meant only as reference for serigraph prints. He was drawn to photography by “the directness of the medium,” and soon found himself communicating the themes and ideas of his paintings photographically. In 1955, DeCarava opened A Photographer's Gallery, an important New York City gallery pioneering an effort to win recognition for photography as a fine art; the gallery remained open for over two years.
Many still regarded photography as a documentary medium, and as a result a great visual lexicon of photojournalism was created by so-called street photographers like Garry Winogrand and Helen Levitt. DeCarava, however, never considered himself of this tradition.
Rather his work hearkens to the intense visual imagery and tones that influenced him as an early painter and graphic artist. He cherished the people, places, and events in his pictures and early on developed the means to express his affection. He shoots using only ambient light, then prints so as to coax light expressively out of very dark images or, more rarely, to delineate darker detail in very light ones. The grays in his black-and-white pictures are velvety and warm--qualities he occasionally enhances by purposely shooting out of focus or exposing long enough to show movement.
The strong lines, extraordinarily rich tonality, and exploration of light in his work charge his photographs with earthy mystery, like a prime Rembrandt painting (Rembrandt was an early influence) or a late Michelangelo sculpture in which, because of the artist's rendering of light and mass, life seems to be springing off the canvas.
DeCarava worked for a time at Sports Illustrated magazine, but found it difficult to adjust his style and schedule to the constraints of commercial work. He did a series on the set of Requiem for a Heavyweight in 1962, which the director liked so much he bought nearly 200 prints. Despite his successes DeCarava felt very strongly about maintaining the artistic integrity of his images, and eventually gave up magazine and freelance work in order to take on a job teaching at Hunter College, where he was a distinguished member of the faculty. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
He died on October 27, 2009.
Click the link below for Mac McAllister Journal-TRIBUTE TO AFRO-AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHER ROY DECARAVA