5 Men, 1964
Paper: 17 13/16 x 21 13/16 inches
Roy DeCarva Biography
Roy DeCarava was an African American artist known for his photographs portraying Black American life on the streets of cities like New York and Washington, DC. His images illustrate the everyday intimacy between people, places and objects. He is most well-known for his photographs of famous jazz musicians but in addition to those he captured the interactions between ordinary people as well as the mysteriousness and strangeness of city life. Over a career that spanned nearly six decades, DeCarava came to be known as a founder in the field of black-and-white photography, advocating for an approach to the medium based on the core values of an individual.
Roy DeCarava was born in 1919 in New York City. He graduated from Textile High School in 1938. DeCarava won a scholarship to study at Cooper Union in New York City (1938 – 1940) where he studied painting, but he left after two years to attend the more affable Harlem Community Art Center (1940 – 42) as well as the George Washington Carver Art School (1944-45) where in addition to painting, he began to experiment with printmaking. DeCarava first used photography as a tool to record and as a reference for his paintings, but soon became so enthralled by the medium that he began devoting his time to using camera as his primary means of artistic expression. He worked with a handheld 35mm camera and unlike most photographers of his day, DeCarava developed and printed his images himself, enabling him to create a distinct and enduring aesthetic approach.
DeCarava’s first solo exhibition of photography was held in 1950 at Forty-Fourth Street Gallery in New York. Through this show he met photographer Edward Steichen, at the time the director of The Museum of Modern Art’s new department of photography, who purchased three images for the Museum’s collection. In 1952, with Steichen’s support, DeCarava became the first African American photographer to win a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. The grant enabled DeCarava to focus solely on photography and to complete a project that would eventually result in The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a photo-poetic work in the urban setting in Harlem. In 1955, DeCarava opened A Photographer’s Gallery on West 84th Street in Manhattan, the first gallery to focus exclusively on American fine art silver gelatin photography in the nation.
DeCarava has held numerous solo exhibitions including those at The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. His work is included in many public collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums, George Eastman Museum and Minneapolis Institute of Art to name a few.