Tag Archives: Roy DeCavara

Roy DeCarava: Jazz Photographs

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Laurie says:

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Billie Holiday

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I have always admired the photography of Roy DeCarava . His use of light is stunning and is best seen for it’s subtlety in the originals. But the photos below give a sense of one area of his remarkable work.
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Dancers

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Quotes are from VF (The Vinyl Factory)

Roy DeCarava was a jazz photographer, artist and Harlem local who captured everyday life in the Manhattan district like no-one else. Through a sparing, striking use of natural light, DeCarava’s exploration of the aesthetics of blackness was revolutionary, developing a visual mode that challenged the era’s cultural assumptions around race, poverty and artistic representation.
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Nat King Cole
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[I love what he said about his relationship to light.] I don’t try to alter light, which is why I never use flash,” said DeCarava. “I hate it with a passion because it obliterates what I saw. When I fall in love with something I see, when something interests me, it interests me in the context of the light that it’s in. So why should I try to change the light and what I see, to get this ‘perfect’ information-laden print? I don’t care about that. The reason why my photographs are so dark is that I take photographs everywhere, light or not. If I can see it, I will take a picture of it. If it’s dark, so be it. I take things as I find them because that’s the way I am and that’s the way I like them. When I went to a jazz club it wasn’t lit up like a T.V. studio. It was dark. I accept that.
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Coltrane

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DeCarava’s contextualizing of his subjects adds a depth of meaning rarely found in jazz photography, and it gives his work a power which continues to inspire photographers and film-makers today. But it also fosters the false notion that DeCarava was, first and foremost, a documentary photographer with a social-realist aesthetic. In fact, he deserves to be judged as – and considered himself to be – an art photographer. He rejected the contemporary idea that black people in America were unpromising subjects for art, suited to be portrayed only as caricatures or social problems, and that their depiction should serve either as a lesson in history or an instrument of social change.

I’m not a documentarian, I never have been,” said DeCarava in a 1990 interview. “I think of myself as poetic, a maker of visions, dreams – and a few nightmares.
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His book of the jazz images is aptly titled “The Sound I Saw”.
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See more of his work here.