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Roy DeCarava: Light Break

By (artist) Roy DeCarava / Preface by Zoé Whitley / Text by Sherry Turner DeCarava

Light Break presents the first survey since 1996 of photographer Roy DeCarava, an essential figure of American art and culture, whose “poetry of vision” re-forms urban life, labor, love, and jazz into the discovery of “an intimate, emotional arc of transformation.”

Though DeCarava often refrained from public discussion of his work, this catalogue provides important background into determining factors of his aesthetic sensibility—his traditional training in painting and printmaking as well as his philosophical undertakings. It brings the viewer to a consideration of contradictory precepts in DeCarava’s work that seeks resolution through tonal and structural elements within the image.

Light Break presents a wide-ranging selection of DeCarava’s photographs accompanied by a preface by Zoé Whitley, an American curator based in London, and features an introduction and essay by curator and art historian Sherry Turner DeCarava. Titled “Celebration,” Turner DeCarava’s essay considers the artist’s singular poetic vision, his timeless portrayals of individuals and places, and his mastery of composition and photographic printmaking.

“In making photographs, as in life, DeCarava was patient. Possessing both a peerless self-awareness and acute observational skills, he knew intuitively when to wait and when to open the camera’s shutter. In the dark room, he availed himself of these same attributes, moving with steady assurance to develop his prints so as to allow the full range of what he called his “infinite scale of grey tones”—often realized at the deepest end of the spectrum—to emerge slowly and fully.”

This exquisite volume showcases a dynamic range of images that underscore DeCarava’s subtle mastery of tonal and spatial elements across a wide, fascinating array of subject matter: from the figural implications of smoke and debris to the “shimmering mirror beneath a mother as she walks with her children in the morning light.” These photographs express a strength of imagery—an intent to synchronize and honor the pulse of art as an emergent signal for creative and revelatory freedom.

“‘Light Break’ treats the full range of his interests, from the civil rights movement to images of urban workers, landscapes and parks… this is a museum-worthy undertaking.”

– Roberta Smith, The New York Times

Light Break is the first important survey of DeCarava's work since the MoMA retrospective Peter Galassi organized in 1996, and it feels even more momentous… the black-and-white reproductions here are superb – all the more important when so many of the book’s selections are new.”

– Vince Aletti, photograph

Light Break offers a wider perspective on the life and work of a singular, somewhat elusive 20th-century American photographer… This illuminating retrospective shows the full range of his work and the consistency of his vision.”

– Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian

“At once spare and elegant, the minimalist approach continues on the interior where the black-and-white photographs of Roy DeCarava take center stage. The array of images dating from 1948 to 2006 showcase his dexterity with light and shadow and commitment to printing techniques that produced a full spectrum of rich tonal grays.”

– Victoria L. Valentine, Culture Type

“DeCarava’s pictures of the scuffed modernist geometries of Manhattan streets and the faces of an American demimonde of singers, musicians and painters, anonymous passers-by, freedom marchers, men and women at diners or in banks or at the park, form an irresistible, mesmerizing portrait of a city and a country of mad contradiction and beauty.”

– Andrew Durbin, Frieze

“Showstoppers abound—a few made me think that I needn’t look at photography anymore, the form having reached its pinnacle for all time to come.”

– Andy Battaglia, ARTnews