David Zwirner is pleased to announce its exclusive worldwide representation of the Estate of Roy DeCarava. The gallery is planning a solo exhibition of DeCarava’s work for 2019 in New York on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of the artist’s birth. Concurrently, The Sweet Flypaper of Life, DeCarava’s best-selling 1955 collaboration with the poet Langston Hughes, will be reissued by First Print Press, with worldwide distribution through David Zwirner Books, D.A.P., and Thames & Hudson.
Art historian Sherry Turner DeCarava states: “Roy devoted almost his entire creative life to photography. Working with discipline for six decades, he consistently produced pivotal and groundbreaking work during one of the longest careers in American art photography. In situations of low light especially, the pictures represent his struggle to find a way to make images speak through the darkness of their origin. It literally takes a while for your eyes to adjust enough to see what’s going on . . . One thing shadows tell you is that nothing worth knowing is instantly fathomable. As Executor of the Estate, I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to partner with the acclaimed David Zwirner gallery under the dynamic leadership of David Zwirner. I am excited at our new endeavor to bring the full breadth of Roy DeCarava’s artistic vision to ever-expanding and diverse audiences worldwide.”
David Zwirner states: “For me, Roy DeCarava constitutes a missing link in the art history of the twentieth century. DeCarava is a giant to those who know his work, and will be a revelation to those who don’t—the extraordinary power and beauty of his images were certainly revelatory to me when I first encountered them. I am just so honored and proud that the gallery can now embark on this journey to further the legacy of this unique artist. We want to thank the Estate of Roy DeCarava, especially Sherry Turner DeCarava for her remarkable dedication and expertise, and the trust she has put in the gallery.”
Over the course of six decades, American artist Roy DeCarava (1919–2009) produced a singular collection of black-and-white photographs of modern life that combine formal acuity with an intimate and deeply human treatment of his subject matter. Grounded by a unified theory of the visual plane, his work displays a subtle mastery of tonal and spatial elements and devotion to the medium of photography as a means of artistic expression. DeCarava created images that carry an emotional impact in their immediate relationship to the viewer, while also revealing less-than-visible terrains. As Bennett Simpson has noted, DeCarava’s images are “suffused with a kind of lyrical haze, a propensity for dim light and shadow, and suggest a language of the self, rich in tone, feeling, and abstraction.”1 DeCarava’s pioneering work privileged the aesthetic qualities of the medium, carrying the ability to reach the viewer as a counterpoint to the view of photography as mere chronicle or document and helping it to gain acceptance as an art form in its own right.
Having trained as a painter and draftsman, DeCarava began working with the camera in the mid-1940s, seeking an inclusive artistic statement for the culturally diverse uptown Manhattan neighborhood of his Harlem youth. Working without assistants and rejecting standard techniques of photographic manipulation, DeCarava honed his printing technique to produce rich tonal gradations, enabling him to explore a full spectrum of light and dark gray values more akin to a painterly mode of expression. Relying on ambient light and a point of view that neither monumentalizes nor sentimentalizes his subjects, he was able to produce a highly original body of artistic work that resonates with visual and emotional significance.
DeCarava himself explained, “My photographs are subjective and personal—they’re intended to be accessible, to relate to people’s lives. . . . People—their well-being and survival—are the crux of what’s important to me.”2
1 Bennett Simpson, “This Air,” in Blues for Smoke. Exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012), p. 21.
2 Roy DeCarava, cited in Peter Galassi, ed., Roy DeCarava: A Retrospective. Exh. cat. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1996), p. 35.
Image: Roy DeCarava, Graduation, 1949 © The Estate of Roy DeCarava 2018. All rights reserved.