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Conversations With Roy DeCarava
Conversations With Roy DeCarava
A Film By Carroll Parrot Blue
(Roy DeCarava, Alex Haley)

Conversations With Roy DeCaravaConversations With Roy DeCarava (1984)
"It starts before you snap the shutter... It starts with your sense of what's important." These are the words of Roy DeCarava, one of the foremost photographic artists of the twentieth century, contributor to the Family of Man exhibit and the first black photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. These are the words of a man who focuses his lens, sensitivities and conscience on the life, tempo and sensibilities of black people and the contemporary urban environment.
Conversations With Roy DeCarava examines his life and work, and features appearances by internationally noted photographer Ansel Adams, photography critic A.D. Coleman, and the executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell.
It deftly interweaves 108 of DeCarava's black and white stills with a portrait of the artist discussing his life, past struggles, his efforts to foster young black photographers, and the relationship of his work to the black experience in America. DeCarava's unforgettable images have immortalized the jazz world through his photographs of contemporaries Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Roy Haynes and others.
DeCarava's vision depicts a world of contrasts; a people of power and delicacy, strength and resilience. It's a private vision, publicly expressed through his words, life and work.
Originally released as a motion picture. Blue Ribbon Winner, 1984 American Film Festival. Second Prize Winner, 1984 Black American Cinema Awards. Produced and written by Carroll Parrot Blue; Music, Jimmy Owens. 1 Videodisc (28 Minutes), Standard Definition, Color - Black & White. Biographic Narration by Alex Haley.
Biographic Narration By Alex Haley
0:02 - Roy DeCarava is a photographer. For 36 years he has created images that have earned him the title of a master.
2:35 - On the 9th of December 1919, Roy DeCarava was born in New York's Harlem. In the 1920s, Harlem was optimistic. This optimism was shattered with the Great Depression.
3:58 - In 1938, Roy was working full time while studying art at Cooper Union.
4:40 - Roy's strongest influence was the artist, Charles White.
5:19 - Roy kept working days. At night, he worked on his art. To save time with his sketching, Roy turned to photography.
9:40 - Roy married art historian, Sherry Turner in 1970. Soon after, she began a critical analysis of Roy's work.
11:10 - Roy's photographic career began in 1950 with his first one man show. Edward Steichen, America's Dean of Photography, was very impressed. He bought Roy's prints and included his work in the classic exhibition The Family of Man. Years later Steichen would call Roy DeCarava one of the world's ten best photographers.
12:24 - Edward Steichen also sponsored Roy for a Guggenheim Fellowship. He became the first black photographer to receive the award. It finally gave Roy the opportunity to work uninterrupted on his art.
14:03 - In the early 1950s, Roy's portfolio was rejected as too Negro. Frustrated, he showed his work to the writer, Langston Hughes.
16:03 - Roy decided to freelance in 1958. For the next eighteen years, he was a black pioneer in commercial photography working for clients like Sports Illustrated and Harry Belafonte. ~ Alex Haley.
Note: Photographer Roy DeCarava has consistently explored one subject: Harlem, New York City. Director Carroll Parrott Blue uses DeCarava's images to tell his story—which is the story of a practitioner of a specific aesthetic—that presented a positive, beautiful image of African Americans, in terms of family, work, and entertainment. Through interviews with contemporaries and scholars, accompanied by a lush jazz score, this précis portrait of DeCarava is a comprehensive introduction to this justly celebrated yet neglected photographer. Awards: Blue ribbon winner, American Film Festival 1984.
(The above narration by Alex Haley is presented under the Creative Commons License. © 1984, 2003 Icarus Films. All Rights Reserved.)


Conversations With Roy DeCarava
Roy DeCarava
In the 1950s, photography was hardly considered art. If you wanted to be taken seriously as a photographer, you snapped mountains and models—not your neighbors. It also helped to be white. But Roy DeCarava, who died October 27, 2009 at the age of 89, turned all of that on its head.
In one of his photos, a man sits quietly on a city stoop. Inside a row house, couples laugh and dance in a dimly lit kitchen. At a table, a little boy whispers something in his father's ear. This is Harlem. A mix of quiet, ordinary moments, everyday struggles, tiny triumphs.
"In '52, there weren't many images of just normal, everyday people. Particularly black people," DeCarava told NPR more than 30 years later. In his application for a Guggenheim fellowship, DeCarava wrote that he hoped to show "not the famous and well-known, but the unknown and the unnamed, thus revealing the roots from which spring the greatness of human beings."

(The above video clip is presented under the Creative Commons License. © 1984, 2003 Icarus Films. All Rights Reserved.)
Conversations With Roy DeCarava • Reviews
"Roy DeCarava's sensitivity to the urban landscape and its people is vividly portrayed in this award-winning documentary... Highly recommended for academic and public libraries with collections in the arts, photography, and black studies." - Annette Salo, Library Journal.
"[A] provocative and substantial investigation which successfully blends DeCarava's art with his experience as a black photographer... Fascinating document of a unique black photographer and his struggle for professional acceptance and recognition." - EFLA Evaluations.
"As unpretentious and sensitive as the black artist whose story it so eloquently tells... An important record of a quietly influential life in art." - Suzanne Muchnic, Los Angeles Times.
"[An] evocative examination... This 1984 American Film Festival Blue Ribbon Winner combines fast pacing with aurally and visually melded images to enrapture viewers in public libraries, classrooms, and photography groups." - Sue-Ellen Beauregard, Booklist.
"This was an enjoyable documentary displaying the life and work of Roy DeCarava. This piece was an introduction to the celebrated photographer that I was previously unfamiliar with. This film features the narration of Alex Haley and a lush jazz score that moves the story seamlessly through the interviews with contemporaries and scholars that add subtle nuances to this film. Despite the films length, 28 minutes, I felt as if I saw more than a snapshot of the amazing career of Roy DeCarava. One of the most amazing things about this film is displayed by the director Carroll Parrot Blue. She uses expert camera work to bring DeCarava's still photography to life and uses these images to tell the story of the artist." - Portland, Oregon.

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