David Zwirner, 2019. First edition. Clothbound hardcover, 250 x 295 mm, 228 pp., 100 b/w illustrations. Photographs by Roy DeCarava. Text by Zoé Whitley, Sherry Turner DeCarava. Design by Katy Homans.
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.
As Whitley writes, “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.”
Published on the occasion of an exhibition of DeCarava’s work at David Zwirner, New York in 2019, 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.
Over the course of six decades, American artist Roy DeCarava (1919–2009) produced a singular collection of black-and-white photographs of modern life that combine formal acuity with an intimate and deeply human treatment of his subject matter. Grounded by a unified theory of the visual plane, his work displays a subtle mastery of tonal and spatial elements and devotion to the medium of photography as a means of artistic expression. DeCarava created images that carry an emotional impact in their immediate relationship to the viewer, while also revealing less-than-visible terrains. DeCarava’s pioneering work privileged the aesthetic qualities of the medium, carrying the ability to reach the viewer as a counterpoint to the view of photography as mere chronicle or document and helping it to gain acceptance as an art form in its own right.