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Almost ten years ago in 2007 Howard Greenberg published An American Gallery to celebrate his 25th year in photography. In it he showed 25 photographs drawn from his collection. Howard is a tremendous gallery owner and and a really nice person! This book is a marvel and Howard’s comments, which accompany the pictures, reveal his great passion for photography. Every two weeks for the next year we will serialise the book. Today, this is Hallway (c.1953) by Roy de Cavara.

 

"Roy De Carava is one of the great poets of photography. He spins narratives that bring you into his world; he creates images that engender a dialogue between abstraction and representation; and, he gives you a lot that can be felt with the heart. This is one of his finest photographs.

 

So much of what interests me in the making of a photograph has to do with how a photographer makes his selection of subject matter, how he fills the frame, how he arrives at the final composition.
A dimly lit hallway is suffused with foreboding and the tragic aura of someone’s life. This image is very much the work of a humanist, but I think ifs important to remember that De Carava is also a fine graphic artist, and in this picture it is through the architecture of the photograph that we find the true depth of emotion. Everything is reduced to geometric masses, to line and shade, to the simplest and most powerful statement possible.

 

It is also a remarkable demonstration of the capacity of black and white photography to abstract and transcend the real world, and this is the best specimen of printmaking that I could possibly imagine. De Carava is able to squeeze more emotional tone out of black and dark gray than any photographer who has ever lived. He is unquestionably one of the master printers of the post war generation. Typically, we think of superlative printing in terms of large format and long tonal scales, but Roy, working from zones, one to four, has cultivated a printing style with a language that is completely intelligible and correlates perfectly with the message in his photographs. There’s nobody better.

 

We could say that the architecture of a photograph is simply how all the elements are put together’ but r m not interested in a photograph where the architecture is a purely intellectual pursuit. I might enjoy the virtuosity, but I wouldn’t hang it on my wall because it leaves me cut off from my emotions.

 

At the end of the day, for me a successful statement is a combination of three things the intellectual, the heartfelt and something intangible.

 

I find it interesting how strongly so many people I’ve encountered respond to this photograph. An empty hallway in a tenement building with one bare ·bulb becomes as full of meaning, as full of emotion, as full of symbolism, as you can get. It is an extraordinary illustration of how a photographer can make so much out of next to nothing."