David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of photographs by Roy DeCarava (1919–2009) at its London location. This will be the first solo exhibition of the artist’s work in London in over thirty years and the first presentation of his photographs in the city since inclusion in Tate Modern’s Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition in 2017.
Over the course of six decades, DeCarava produced a singular collection of black-and-white silver gelatin photographs that combines formal acuity with an intimate and deeply human treatment of his subjects. His pioneering work privileges the aesthetic qualities of the medium, providing a counterpoint to the prevailing 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 draughtsman, DeCarava began working with the camera in the mid-1940s, seeking an inclusive artistic statement for the culturally diverse uptown Manhattan neighbourhood 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-grey values more akin to a painterly mode of expression.
Relying on ambient light and a point of view that neither monumentalises nor renders sentimental his subjects, DeCarava was able to produce a highly original oeuvre that carries significant visual and emotional content. His work reveals transcendent values of the human figure and continues to evolve in the context of the everyday experience of social improvisations. Avoiding being an emblematic totem, the work is a sustained personal exploration of human ingenuity. The search for beauty within this modern conundrum is the hallmark of his work, and achieving a vibrant and meditative voice, he remains a central beacon for contemporary artists.