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Roy DeCarava

David, 1952

Roy DeCarava (1919-2009) was born in Harlem and educated in the city’s public schools.  Following a brief period of work on the W.P.A. art project, he was admitted to Cooper Union Institute where he studied painting, architecture and sculpture.  Later, he enrolled at the Harlem Art Center and The George Washington Carver Art School. He turned to photography in the mid- 1940s to gather information for his canvases.  DeCarava worked for 20 years as a freelance editorial photographer for Columbia, Prestige, ABC Paramount, and Atlantic records and for major pictorial magazines, including Sports Illustrated and Scientific American. In 1952, he was awarded the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. In 1955, he co-authored with the poet Langston Hughes The Sweet Flypaper of Life, an award-winning pictorial fiction about the lives of people in Harlem. The book was re-published in several editions, appearing in English, German, Chinese and Czechoslovakian; it was reissued in 1984 by Howard University Press.  In the 1970s, DeCarava began his academic career as Professor of Art at Cooper Union. 

DeCarava was the subject of more than 25 solo exhibitions and participated in dozens of group exhibitions around the world.  DeCarava received honorary degrees from Rhode Island School of Design, the Maryland Institute of Art, Wesleyan University, The New School for Social Research, The Parsons School of Design and the Art Institute of Boston for contributions to American art.  Among other professional recognitions were the Century Award in Photography from the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, the Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the National Arts Club and the Master of Photography Award of the International Center of Photography. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Art from the National Endowment for the Arts, presented by President George W. Bush.   

DeCarava’s work resides in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC; the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX.