5 Men DeCarava, Roy  (American, 1919-2009)

For over fifty years Roy DeCarava (American, b. 1919-2009) has photographed people and places in his home of New York. His luxurious use of the dark tonal range is legendary, as is the compassion with which he captures his subjects. His photographs reflect issues that are as deeply personal as they are social. For the richness of experience his images suggest and the expressiveness of his printing style, one critic has justly described DeCarava as a "poet of light."

This moment occurred during a memorial service for the children killed in a church in Birmingham Ala in 1964. The photograph shows the men coming out of the service at a church in Harlem. The men were coming out of the church with faces so serious and so intense that I responded, and the image was made. (Roy Decarava)

DeCarava explained his feelings when taking the 1964 photograph of five men coming out of the service: “The motivation at that moment was my political understanding of the treatment of black people and their response to injustice…I wasn’t at the bombing, I wasn’t in the church, but I knew what it was and I wanted to make a picture that dealt with it. The [five] men were coming out of the church with faces so serious and so intense, and the image was made.”

Roy DeCarava began his artistic career as a painter and print-maker, and initially began using a hand-held camera as a tool to aid in his sketches. Yet within only a few years, DeCarava embraced photography with fervor, embarking on a career in the medium in the late 1940s that would take him into the 20th century. Imbued with a dark tonal range, DeCarava’s photographs provide keen insight to a deft eye intent on discovering visual truths. He illuminated integral components of mid-twentieth century urban life in New York. Born and raised in New York, DeCarava was Harlem’s photographer, as his honest and gripping photographs of the vagaries of modern life attest. Showcasing the urban environment in all of its gritty glory, DeCarava accentuated the quotidian activities of the everyday African-American men and women, avoiding sensationalist and outré crafted personas in favor of social realism. DeCarava describes his methodology as, "I want to photograph Harlem through the Negro people. Morning, noon, night, at work, going to work, coming home from work, at play, in the streets, talking, laughing, in the home, in the playgrounds, in the schools, bars, stores, libraries, beauty parlors, churches . . ." While not the first African-American photographer to chronicle Harlem, DeCarava quickly became its champion as the neighborhood morphed from the center of artistic and intellectual creativity during the Harlem Renaissance to an essential destination for Civil Rights luminaries and their messages of change. Roy DeCarava began his artistic career as a painter and print-maker, and initially began using a hand-held camera as a tool to aid in his sketches. Yet within only a few years, DeCarava embraced photography with fervor, embarking on a career in the medium in the late 1940s that would take him into the 20th century. Imbued with a dark tonal range, DeCarava’s photographs provide keen insight to a deft eye intent on discovering visual truths. He illuminated integral components of mid-twentieth century urban life in New York. Born and raised in New York, DeCarava was Harlem’s photographer, as his honest and gripping photographs of the vagaries of modern life attest. Showcasing the urban environment in all of its gritty glory, DeCarava accentuated the quotidian activities of the everyday African-American men and women, avoiding sensationalist and outré crafted personas in favor of social realism. DeCarava describes his methodology as, "I want to photograph Harlem through the Negro people. Morning, noon, night, at work, going to work, coming home from work, at play, in the streets, talking, laughing, in the home, in the playgrounds, in the schools, bars, stores, libraries, beauty parlors, churches . . ." While not the first African-American photographer to chronicle Harlem, DeCarava quickly became its champion as the neighborhood morphed from the center of artistic and intellectual creativity during the Harlem Renaissance to an essential destination for Civil Rights luminaries and their messages of change. (http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/parting-2/?_r=0)

Reproduced / Exhibited

Exhibition catalog RISD Museum of Art – A Century of Black Photographers, 1983 (cover)

MOMA Roy DeCarava : a retrospective Peter Galassi, with an essay by Sherry Turner DeCarava 1996 p. 179