Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Roy Decarava, 1919-2009


Social documentary photographer Roy DeCarava, lauded for his advocacy of young African-American photographers and art, died last October at the age of 89.

DeCarava began his photography career early, taking on gigs as a teenager to earn money. He later attended the Cooper Union School of Art in New York and George Washington Carver Art School.

In addition to his photographic work, DeCarava produced many paintings and silk-screened images early in his career. He fully transitioned into photography after a friend put one of DeCarava’s photos on display in the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art.

DeCarava was the first African-American photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. Upon receiving the honor, he decided that he had a social responsibility to represent the African-American art community. He started by collaborating with the poet Langston Hughes to publish “The Sweet Flypaper of Life,” a book with 2,000 photos of daily life in Harlem.

Later in his career DeCarava freelanced for ad agencies and magazines, and spent eight years as a contract photographer for Sports Illustrated. He co-founded Kamoinge (kamoinge.org), a workshop and critique association for African-American photographers, and taught at New York’s Hunter College.

In 1998, DeCarava received the Infinity Award for Master of Photography from the International Center of Photography, and in 2006 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.