Roy DeCarava: the sound i saw
David Zwirner is pleased to present concurrent exhibitions of photographs by Roy DeCarava (1919–2009) at two of its New York locations: 34 East 69th Street and 533 West 19th Street. This will be the gallery’s first presentation of the artist’s work since announcing exclusive representation of the Estate of Roy DeCarava in 2018. The exhibitions will be accompanied by a new catalogue, copublished by First Print Press and David Zwirner Books, featuring an essay by art historian Sherry Turner DeCarava.
Approaching photography with a painterly aesthetic and leaving behind the standard practices of documentary photography, DeCarava accepted the modernist challenge to understand the medium as an artistic expression and brought an entirely new vocabulary and thinking to the field. He defined his art, not as existing in the polarities of black and white, but as encompassing an infinite scale of gray tonalities, “sliding into each other,” creating new aesthetic challenges for his silver gelatin process.
On view uptown will be a selection of photographs from the sound i saw, DeCarava’s unwavering decades-long exploration of the relationship between the visual and the aural. Created as an artist-made book in 1960 and never before exhibited in its original form, this work of emotional power and formal mastery is known, in particular, for its finding and explicating a depth of human perception, carried by a nuanced and atmospheric depiction. This photography delivers those known and unknown, including Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and others in their milieu, into a sound and a sense rarely seen in visual arts.
Presented in Chelsea, Light Break will showcase a dynamic range of images that underscore DeCarava’s subtle mastery of tonal and spatial elements across a wide, fascinating array of subject matter: from the figural implications of smoke and debris to the “shimmering mirror beneath a mother as she walks with her children in the morning light.” Not simply descriptive, as Turner DeCarava notes in her catalogue essay, “The pictures capture a moment of life that slowly unfolds its intimacy with the world—the strong, youthful beauty of a Mississippi freedom marcher, the nature of trees … all rendered through a translucency of surface with palpable detail recorded in the darkest areas.” These photographs express a strength of imagery, an intent to synchronize and honor the pulse of art as an emergent signal for creative freedom, visualizing its revelatory contours.
Image: Roy DeCarava, Club audience at intermission, 1958 (detail)