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Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’ Ocula Conversation Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’

A group of voices accompanies me in the exhibition. They are singing words I cannot comprehend, yet the warm tunes are familiar: folk songs, love songs, songs of longing. There are letters, too. They speak of the quotidian details of a soldier's life: the hardness of the war, sending money to the family, and longing for familiar landscapes, food,...

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Aichi to Okayama: Art in Japan Looks to the Future Ocula Report Aichi to Okayama: Art in Japan Looks to the Future 11 Oct 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

There has been a flurry of triennial and biennial art activity in Japan this year. The Aichi Triennale opened in Nagoya this August, sparking a national debate about the shutting down of a display of formerly censored works—the result of public backlash against a burnt image of Emperor Hirohito and a statue commemorating the women forced into...

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Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum Ocula Insight | Video Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum 16 August 2019

Mark Bradford walks through Mark Bradford: Los Angeles Mark Bradford: Los Angeles at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai (27 July–13 October 2019) is the artist's largest solo exhibition to date in China. In this video for Ocula, Bradford and Diana Nawi, curator of the show, walk through selected works that convey the artist's concerns with...

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Roy DeCarava

(1919 - 2009), USA

To those aware of his legacy, Harlem-born photographer Roy DeCarava is a giant of American art photography. His practice, spanning six decades of American history, recorded aspects of African American life and culture over decades of drastic change. He was one of the first artists to photograph the ins and outs of life in Harlem in the 1950s, as well as the black civil rights movement in the 1960s in New York, Washington, and across the South. Iconic American jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday also graced his lens. Set apart from documentary photography, his intimate, humane glimpses into the lives of his subjects explore the medium of photography as a means of artistic expression. Through shooting only with available light, and dramatic juxtapositions of light and dark, his images create the impression of a painterly quality. His photographs are less a record and more a collection of poetically composed glimpses of genuine human experiences.

Born in Harlem in 1919, DeCarava knew well the New York City streets and neighbourhoods that became his lifelong subject. Trained as a painter and draftsman, his path to photography was slow. In 1938, after graduating from the 18th-Street Textile High School, he briefly served in the poster division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Initially studying fine art at a tertiary level at The Cooper Union, he transferred to WPA-sponsored Harlem Community Art Center (1940–1942), followed by the George Washington Carver Art School (1944–1945).

DeCarava initially used his camera only to gather source material for printmaking, shifting to exclusively working with a camera in the mid-1940s. In 1952, with the support of Edward Steichen, then-director of photography at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, he became the first African American photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. The resultant project culminated in The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955)—a book of photographs and words exploring life in Harlem, made in collaboration with the poet Langston Hughes. Traversing the streets with a small portable 35mm camera, DeCarava was not an objective documentarian; rather, he pursued 'a creative expression' of the lives of African Americans. In the 1990s he extended this expressive approach to nature photography.

Over his career, before his death in 2009, DeCarava produced five books of photography and appeared in countless solo and group exhibitions across the United States, and several overseas, in addition to working as a freelance photographer for magazines and album covers. He also taught as professor at Hunter College from 1975. Among his many accolades, the artist received the National Medal of Arts from then U.S President, George W. Bush in 2006.

Biography by Ocula | 2019
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Featured Artworks

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Current Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, The Estate of Roy DeCarava, Light Break at David Zwirner, New York
Open Now
5 September–26 October 2019 The Estate of Roy DeCarava Light Break David Zwirner, 19th Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, The Estate of Roy DeCarava, the sound i saw at David Zwirner, New York
Open Now
5 September–26 October 2019 The Estate of Roy DeCarava the sound i saw David Zwirner, 69th Street, New York

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Roy DeCarava in New York: A Jazz Photographer in Subject and Technique Ocula Insight Roy DeCarava in New York: A Jazz Photographer in Subject and Technique 30 August 2019

Light Break and the sound i saw (5 September–26 October 2019), are concurrent exhibitions of Roy DeCarava's work, curated by art historian Sherry Turner DeCarava. They might be separated by David Zwirner's New York locations, but the shows, (the first presentation of the photographer's work since the gallery announced exclusive representation of...

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In Related Press

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Roy DeCarava and the Sonic Power of Photography Related Press Roy DeCarava and the Sonic Power of Photography Frieze : 12 September 2019

A new exhibition of Roy DeCarava's photographs at David Zwirner in New York is an astonishing document of American life in the second half of the 20th century.

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Your Concise New York Art Guide for Fall 2019 Related Press Your Concise New York Art Guide for Fall 2019 Hyperallergic : 10 September 2019

As always, there are many wonderful exhibitions, film festivals, and art events taking place throughout the fall in New York. We've put together our recommendations, and hope that they encourage you to explore the artistic happenings of this great city. Focusing on museums, art nonprofits, and galleries that continue to make New York a global hub...

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Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes's The Sweet Flypaper of Life Related Press Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes's The Sweet Flypaper of Life The Brooklyn Rail : 1 August 2019

In 1955, just as the celebrated Family of Man exhibition opened at the Museum of Modern Art in NY, Simon and Schuster published The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a small volume of photographs by Roy DeCarava with text by Langston Hughes. While Family of Man was later on widely criticized as an attempt to show the universality of human actions in daily...

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Roy DeCarava’s Intimate Photos of Black Americans, from Billie Holiday to a Loving Father Related Press Roy DeCarava’s Intimate Photos of Black Americans, from Billie Holiday to a Loving Father Hyperallergic : 30 April 2019

LOS ANGELES — In one of Roy DeCarava's portraits of Billie Holiday, the jazz singer is caught in a moment of intense feeling, somewhere between the rapture and melancholy that characterizes her music. Her face is faintly visible in the photograph, along with a jeweled teardrop earring to the bottom left of the frame. All else is obscured by...

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