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Roy DeCarava: the sound i saw

Roy DeCarava’s the sound i saw is the pictorial equivalent of jazz. Here, the visionary photographer turns his gaze on legendary jazz icons Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday, among many others. 

“This is a book about people, about jazz, and about things. The work between its covers tries to present images for the head and for the heart and, like its subject matter, is particular, subjective, and individual,” writes DeCarava. A master of poetic contemplation and of sensual tonalities in black and white, DeCarava is, above all, a photographer of people. A member of the post–World War II generation that sought a new modernist vocabulary, he was first recognized for his innovative images of life in Harlem (the subject of The Sweet Flypaper of Life, his 1955 collaboration with poet Langston Hughes) and extraordinary portraits of jazz musicians. It is these two themes—New York and jazz—interwoven and inseparable, that are the ostensible subject of the sound i saw. However, the seemingly casual yet deeply felt compositions and the rich, gradient tones of DeCarava’s photographs stir emotions that resonate far beyond one neighborhood and one era.
 
Conceived, designed, written, and made as an artist maquette by DeCarava in the early 1960s, the sound i saw went unpublished for almost half a century until it was printed by Phaidon in 2001. At its core is a visual and philosophical journey to plumb the meaning of a creative life. The artist’s intention in proposing a complex relationship between vision and music moves his comprehensive, decade-long reflection to the status of a magnum opus. This new edition, copublished by First Print Press and David Zwirner Books, includes new scholarship by Radiclani Clytus and reflections by Sherry Turner DeCarava.

“Illuminated by exquisitely spare uses of light or contrasting blocks of relative brightness, his photographs are at once alluring, mysterious and challenging. At close range, they reveal layered meanings that are variously psychological, social, cultural, even structural.”

– Roberta Smith, The New York Times

“The book the sound i saw is the pictorial equivalent of jazz. Here, the visionary photographer turns his gaze on legendary jazz icons, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday, among many others.”

– Books on Show

the sound i saw “gathers Roy DeCarava’s beautifully meditative portraits of jazz performers…”

– Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian

“These portraits of musicians juxtaposed against scenes from New York, primarily Harlem, offer a look at how the two will always be inextricable from one another."

– Lee Cutlip, Inside Hook

“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