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Roy DeCarava

Text from Peter Galassi, introduction to Roy Decarava: A Retrospective

"Roy DeCarava has been making photographs for nearly half a century, at no prompting but his own. He always has lived in New York City and almost always has photographed there, creating from his immediate world the world of his art. He found his poetic voice almost as soon as he picked up a camera, in the late 1940s, and has never diverged from it.

"At the heart of DeCarava's photography is an aesthetic of patient contemplation. It is common that we say to ourselves (or to others) that our lives would be richer if we could only slow down, if we could take time to savor and consider, if we would attend to our own backyards. DeCarava's work achieves this reflective state of grace, in the way he looks at the world and in the way his pictures invite us to look at them. He loves the luxurious subtlety of photography's infinitely divisible scale of grays, and it pleases him when viewers feel obliged to pause and peer closely into the dense but articulate shadows of his pictures. Having paused, the viewer has entered DeCarava's world.

"The photographs are still and resolute. Often the people in them are themselves still or nearly so, their inwardness a reflection of DeCarava's contemplative frame of mind. Even a musician in a fury of improvisation and a worker straining with his load are full of poise in DeCarava's pictures, their powerful energies compressed in timeless potential. Often, too, the frame is compressed, as if to exclude the untended bustle of the world beyond.

"Through its lyric concision DeCarava's work addresses the viewer with uncommon intimacy; its formal grace is a vehicle of deep feeling. No one has ever made photographs more openly tender, and perhaps this is no surprise for an artist whose style is so gentle. But in the pictures there is pain and anger, too.

"The emotional intimacy of DeCarava's photography is still more remarkable because it is full of social meaning: The expression of self is nearly always an expression of relation to others. DeCarava is indeed a poet of light, but what is most distinctive and compelling in his art is the seamless, reciprocal identity of the personal and the social, as if each of these opposing aspects of the self had deepened the other.


 


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