Of Gelatin-Silver Prints and All that Jazz
MOMA's DeCarava Retrospective

"How do I know what to photograph?" Roy DeCarava repeated the age-old question during a recent lecture at the Museum of Modern Art on his distinguished lifetime spent peering through a camera's eye. "I am at a point where images find me," he concluded. "I don't go looking for them."

Images have it very easy when it comes to finding DeCarava. Born in 1919, he has been a major presence on the New York photographic scene for several decades and a pioneering recorder of everyday life in Harlem. He was the first African American to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship for photography (in 1952). A few years later he embarked on a powerful series of pictures of most of the great jazz musicians and vocalists of the day, from Billie Holliday and Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, Theolonius Monk, and John Coltrane.

MOMA is currently celebrating the work of DeCarava, who has taught photography at Hunter College since 1975 and is a Distinguished Professor of Art there, in a retrospective featuring more than 200 black-and-white photographs taken from the late 1940s to the mid- 1990s. It will run until May 7 and then travel over the next three years to several other distinguished museums, including Chicago's Art Institute, San Francisco's own new MOMA, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.

Friday evenings during the exhibition have been occasions for special CUNY pride. DeCarava and the legendary bassist Ron Carter, Distinguished Professor of Music at City College, organized a series of 10 evenings of live jazz in MOMA's Garden Cafe to set the ideal mood for visiting the show through March 29 in a program included with Museum admission.