Monday, March 14, 2011

Roy DeCarava – Shooting in Available Light

Roy DeCarava
"Woman Descending Stairs"
Each week in my Beginning Photography class, our instructor Moshe Quinn introduced us to a new master photographer and assigned a mini research project each week. Though it was time-consuming, I loved learning about each photographer.

Roy De Carava was one of my favorite Photographers of the Week. I was thrilled to stumble upon this gentle photographer's interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross early in my research.

I was amazed to learn that he “accepts the lighting conditions, whatever they are”. He didn’t believe that you couldn’t take a photo just because there wasn’t enough light. He said “I would rather sacrifice the information, in terms of details and things like that, for a feeling of mood.” This was a revelation for me, because I am the first to bellyache about the lack of perfect light conditions and point to it as a reason for not capturing a great image.

In “Woman Descending Stairs”, he allowed our eyes to find the precious few swathes of white in the photo. First one sees the woman’s hand as it elegantly bundles the excess volume of her coat. Then we are drawn to her legs that swished open her coat to reveal the light corner of the lining. Her natural grace would be the envy of any runway model.

In “Man Coming up Subway Stairs”, DeCarava conveys the man’s exhaustion by capturing the pull of the hand, just out of frame, and his posture slumped in his once-crisp shirt, now rumpled by a hard day’s work.

© Roy DeCarava
"Man coming up subway stairs"

In an image from the book “The Sound I Saw”, DeCarava froze a moment of quietude that two jazz musicians found in an unadorned room back stage. It’s hard to decide whether this is quiet moment preceded or followed a lively jazz session on stage.

Roy DeCarava from "The Sound I Saw"
published by Phaidon Press in 2001

Here are some other images of DeCarava's I admire. The white shirts and the Lingerie shop signs are the stars of this image:

Roy DeCarava
Lingerie, New York
Smithsonian American Art Museum

The tight embrace during a dance reveals just enough of the couple to imply the intimacy between them.

I love his fascination with stripes:

Man in Striped Shirt at Piano
Gelatin silver print. 1954/1981. Signed, titled, dated and numbered 481 3/2 in ink on the verso.
10 x 12 7/8in. (25.4 x 32.7cm.) Framed. 

DeCarava photographed many Jazz musicians who performed in Harlem, like Coltrane and Elvin:

Roy De Carava, Coltrane and Elvin, 1960

... and Duke Elington

I dare you to sit still during this fabulous clip of the young Duke Ellington playing “Take the A Train”. The A Train is the very best way to get to “Sugarhill way up in Harlem… in a hurry, hurry, hurry…”

Segment from the film”Reveille with Beverly” from 1943; the song was composed in 1939 by Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974).
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Chesney said...

thanks for introducing me to this concept and artist...I am absolutely loving these!

melissashook said...

these are really nice to see, Dutchbaby...I got to interview him, that gracious, soft spoken man. For some reason I didn't take my camera along and was heart broken when his little daughter came in and I saw the photographs I could have taken...I'm sure he didn't understand why I thought it was too much to want photos, also...
He was a remarkable photographer, always subtle and not-so subtly talking about racism...
thank you..

melissashook said...

thanks for including the Terri Gross interview!
If you liked the image of the children, you might like Helen Levitt's work...a white woman photographing in Harlem in the 50's. There's also a good essay by James Agee with her first book...
again, thanks..

California Girl said...

My husband introduces me to photographers on a regular basis. He often must explain the work to me. In this case, you do not have to explain the work. It speaks for itself. Thank you.

Marilyn Miller said...

His photography is amazing! I need to take another photography class, maybe in the fall.

Lisa Gordon said...

I so enjoyed reading this post. It took me a long time to accept the light I had, and to try to do something with it. I so dislike flash, but I suddenly realized that I was spending more time waiting for the "right light," thank I was actually taking photographs. Realizing this made an enormous difference in my work, and some of my photos that I like the best, were taken in light that was "not right."

Thank you for posting this. It was great!!

dona said...

Wow! Are you following a course of photography? I'd also love to...
I really enjoyed this post and Roy De Carava's photos as well. There is so much to learn from this artist.

Ruth said...

I am very, very moved by this post, Dutchbaby. I think I have seen DeCarava's work, but I didn't remember his name. This is a beautiful, close and intimate introduction, with your text and the interview with Terry Gross. I loved hearing his perceptions and stories.

All the photos touch me, I love what you pointed out in each one. The way he described the man coming up the subway stairs was a lesson in observation. I think my favorite is the one from "The Sound I Saw" but I also love the couple dancing -- a great example of why NOT to worry about panty lines! The clarinet and man in white shirt, wow.

This is completely inspiring. Thank you so much. I really enjoy and admire your rich artistic life.

Margaret said...

I have got to come back here and watch the video later today. This man is a genius and I love that you bring up to not wait for the perfect light. So many photos are readjusted today in Photoshop (of which I'm thankful for) but some are too "corrected". Sometimes a deep shadow is good. I adore the photo of the couple dancing and the shot "The Sound I Saw"... I think it is right before a performance... Are you taking this photography class right now? If so, I hope you share bits and pieces of what you are learning. I am also going to try and find a book with this mans work in it. Thank you!!!

Vagabonde said...

These photographs are so vibrant of life. I cannot find the right word to describe the sincerity and humanity I see in them. What an artist! I am pleased you introduced him on your post. I did not know him but now will try to find more on his work – how inspiring. I just love these pictures – I am fascinated by them, really. You know, in a way, it was because of jazz that I came to this country (I’ll have to write a post about that.)

Unknown said...

Wonderful, wonderful! Those are some of the most powerful photos I've ever seen...thank you for introducing me to this artist. You are learning so much in your class!!

Kala said...

Thank you for sharing your research & these images. I think by accepting the lighting conditions whatever they were, he pushed himself to be more creative. Most people would have walked away if there wasn't enough available light and NOT have gotten the shots he did.

rochambeau said...

It intrigues me that you professor insists you learn about the master photographers. It's a great teaching tool.

Thank you for passing on DeCarva's theory about light. He achieves "mood" in his work and seems to capture the soul of the moment. Your descriptions about why his photographs "work" are right on.

Thank you for the intro to Roy DeCarva, Dutchbaby, for passing on your new knowledge in a subject that fascinates me to no end!!!


My word verification is:

Hope you have funoni tonight!

julochka said...

this is such a great reminder...i wish i'd had it 2 months ago, when the light was at it's worst...but i'm going to remember it for when i need it.

thank you.

Ginnie said...

I can just imagine what a course like this would teach you, DB. Every artist would get under your skin and stay there for awhile! I had to smile when I got to "Take the A Train" because just yesterday Astrid and I did a photo-hunt in the real Haarlem. What a city!

Yoli said...

This is a revelation. Stunning.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Chesney,
You are most welcome!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear melissashook,
Wow! You got to interview him? I'm envious. He sounded like such a gentle soul on the interview with Terry Gross and now you confirmed it to be so. I was impressed that he truly knew what parts of photography interested him and what didn't.

Thanks for sending me the other photo references. I look forward to learning more.

paris parfait said...

I've seen his work, but didn't know anything about the photographer. Wonderful! Thanks for the inspiration.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear California Girl,
Being married to a photographer must mean you have fantastic family albums. Or is it like the cobbler's kids needing shoes?

I have to admit, I did not care for all the master photographers we studied.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Marilyn,
I hope you do! I look forward to seeing your work.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear lisa,
You are so much more advanced than me! It takes a long, long time to become a good photographer...sigh.

Dutchbaby said...

Cara dona,
I took the class last semester, but I learned some lifelong skills. I hope you have a chance to take a class soon too. Studying master photographers is a powerful tool to improve one photography.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,

I welcome your words and your presence here. I'm thrilled that I was able to share DeCarava's work; his work has a spiritual feeling to me. I chose the Coltrane photo for you, my dear :~)

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Margaret,
You are so right about DeCarava being a genius. The class was in the fall semester and I don't know if I'll have time to take another in the near future.

When I first learned PhotoShop, I overused the shadow feature; early posts of Dutchbaby are a testament to the error of my ways. I've now learned to embrace shadows.

I agree that the backstage shot was probably right before a performance, now that you mention it.

Dutchbaby said...

Cher Vagabonde,
Oh do tell. I'd love to hear your story about how jazz brought you to this country.

Just googling Roy DeCarava's images will give you many more photos, but a book of course will show more detail and depth.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Susan,
Yes, I did learn so much. Discovering these masters was a gift.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Kala,

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Constance,
I'm happy to pass on what I learned. I'm so glad you share my interest.

You're right, DeCarava conveys a mood like no other photographer!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear julochka,
I hope I remember it when I need it. Thanks for dropping by.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ginnie,
You are right about the value of studying these masters.

I look forward to seeing your mosaics of the real Haarlem.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Yoli,
I love knowing that you learned from this post!

Relyn Lawson said...

I have had this page on your blog up for days. Not kidding, days. I keep coming back to it and just falling into these images. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing them!

robin-bird said...

this is a wonderfully inspiring post!! i'm so happy to hear you are enjoying your class!!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Relyn,
I am delighted to share these with a fellow photo student.

Dear robin-bird,
Please know that you are one of my inspirations!

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