Roy DeCarava

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Roy DeCarava
Roy DeCarava.jpg
Born Roy Rudolph DeCarava
(1919-12-09)December 9, 1919
Harlem Hospital
Died October 27, 2009(2009-10-27) (aged 89)
Known for fine art photography
Notable work The Sound I Saw,
The Sweet Flypaper of Life
Awards Guggenheim Fellowship,
National Medal of Arts

Roy DeCarava (December 9, 1919 – October 27, 2009) was an American painter and photographer who resided in New York City. DeCarava was initially known for his early work chronicling the lives of African Americans and jazz artists in Harlem. DeCarava came to be known as a founder of fine art black and white photography separate from the "social documentary" style of his predecessors.[1]

Career in Fine Art Photography[edit]

DeCarava produced five books, including The Sound I Saw and The Sweet Flypaper of Life as well as landmark museum catalogs and retrospective surveys from the Friends of Photography and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.[2][3] The subject of at least 15 solo exhibitions, DeCarava was the first African American photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship; and as a result of the fellowship he was able to photograph Harlem for a year; chronicling the lives of everyday Harlemites and the rhythmic nuances of life.[4] In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government.[5]

DeCarava encouraged other photographers and believed in the accessibility of the medium.[6] From 1955 to 1957, at his own expense, he established and supported A Photographer's Gallery in his apartment in a brownstone block at 48 West 85th Street,[1] New York, in which was shown work of the great names of American photography of the period.

DeCarava died on October 27, 2009.[7]

Art Historical Context and Commentary[edit]

Coming of age in the 1940s, DeCarava appears nothing short of iconoclastic in both his approach to photography, a medium strenuously identified with evidentiary truth, and in his esthetic ambitions to, as he said, “break through a kind of literalness,” and “express some things I felt.” Maintaining his quest to create a visually autonomous photographic subject of color, DeCarava endured decades of embittering misunderstanding. He has pointed out over and over that despite his “reputation as a documentar[y] photographer, … I really never was,” and reiterated his steadfastly modernist concern to achieve “a creative expression,” rather than a “documentary or sociological statement.”[8]

Selected collection[edit]

Works consulted[edit]

  • The Sound I Saw. Phaidon Press, 2000.
  • Roy DeCarava, A Retrospective. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY 1996.
  • Roy DeCarava, Photographs. Edited by James Alinder, Friends of Photography, 1981.
  • Ralph Eugene Meatyard. published by International Center of Photography, 2004, Introduction by Cynthia Young.
  • Thumbnail View. Luna.


  1. ^ a b Kennedy, Randy (2009-10-28). "Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  2. ^ Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes, The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Washington DC: Howard University Press 1984 (Reprint)
  3. ^ "Museum of Modern Art", American Visions, December 1999. Accessed August 23, 2009.
  4. ^ Smalls, James (1 January 2017). "DeCarava, Roy". Retrieved 1 January 2017. 
  5. ^ National Endowment for the Arts. 2006 National Medal of Arts. Roy DeCarava. Photographer, New York. Accessed August 23, 2009.
  6. ^ Scott, Dread. "An Interview with Roy DeCarava" (Q and A with the artist, Roy DeCarava). A Gathering of the Tribes. Brooklyn, New York: A.G.O.T.T. 
  7. ^ Abbie Fentress Swanson, "Photographer Roy DeCarava Dies at 89", WQXR News, October 30, 2009.
  8. ^ Stange, Maren (May 29, 2017). "Essay Post 5: Roy DeCarava". Quotes from the artist, Roy DeCarava. Retrieved 7 June 2017. 

External links[edit]