Roy DeCarava and me / by Ed Walker

What I love about Roy DeCarava’s work is that his pedigree in painting and printmaking is evident in his work through his use of light. He understood print and ink and how that can be used on paper to convey light. His works are geometric, use bright foreground lights and at other times very dark with only minimal details. This shows an understanding of how this will be represented on the final print of the image, he is thinking about the end result as he is shooting the picture.

His work of jazz musicians is striking and grabs the light with both hands to use it in the most inventive was possible. He represents his subjects in silhouette with harsh lights behind them, he is creating a screen printed poster of an artist just as much as he is creating a photograph. His composition is already thinking about typography, even though none appears.

And yet in other shots he uses the light in it’s most minimal way possible, just capturing enough to show you the scene and nothing more; the players are sinking into darkness.

His subway shots can be dark and foreboding, same with his street portraits of Harlem. People peek out of shadows and barely reveal themselves.

Another aspect I love is his approach of concentrating the meaning and visual language into a wonderfully tight, rich image. This is not a documentary photographer showing you life and how it really is. This is an image maker telling a story with just about the right amount of light, in just the right place to inform, leaving the rest of the space to sit in luxurious, thick darkness. Sometimes street photographers criticise shallow depth of field images as out of context with the street and not honestly showing the reality. It’s clear that Roy DeCarava would have dismissed that as nothing to do with what makes a great image.

After shooting a summer of work with people in the spotlight, I’m draw to this approach, looking at the darkness and also looking into dark spaces where people are. Isolation and quiet are where my camera is being led at the moment.

As the nights draw in I’m drawn to shooting at dusk and only using the lights of the city to create images that allow people to sit within the darkness. I’m currently experimenting with the silhouettes that the setting sun creates, the doorways where people stop and storefronts which boom light out onto the dark street.

It’s a completely different time and space to where I have been for the past 6 months but the result should hopefully be a continuation of where I’ve been with similar themes, it’s interesting how something so different can also be the same.