Boundary-Breaking Photographer DeCarava Dies

After a career spanning nearly 70 years, Roy DeCarava, the man who crossed color barriers in turning his childhood Harlem neighborhood into the subject of his iconic photographers, died at 89 on October 28. DeCarava trained to be a painter, but in taking pictures to capture images for his printmaking pieces, his artistic medium of choice moved toward photography. Though a fan of its instant gratification, DeCarava also realized that as a black artist in a then-segregated country, he would face difficulty breaking into the highbrow art world. “A black painter, to be an artist,” he once said, “had to join the white world or not function—had to accept the values of white culture.” Instead, DeCarava stayed true to the black community he called home, fiercely guarding his work and keeping a very low profile in the industry. He was regarded as a leader in African-American photography, breaking the social-documentary traditions of the time. “I do not want a documentary or sociological statement,” DeCarava wrote in his application for a Guggenheim fellowship, which he won, becoming the first black photographer to do so, in 1952. Instead, he wanted to express “insight and understanding of Negroes which I believe only a Negro photographer can interpret.”