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City Gallery City Gallery Wellington

Past exhibition

Roy DeCarava: The Sound I Saw: The Jazz Photography of Roy DeCarava

17 December–26 January 1985

ORGANISER Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, and US Information Service OTHER VENUES Studio Museum in Harlem, 1983; Hunter College Art Gallery, New York; Port Washington Public Library, Port Washington, New York; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York, 1983; Baycourt Arts Centre, Tauranga

Born in Harlem, in New York City, in 1919, photographer Roy DeCarava is acclaimed for imaging the lives of African Americans in the community in which he lived. In 1952 he was the first African-American photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. Avoiding the overtly documentary approach of the era, he says, ‘I do not want a documentary or sociological statement—I want a creative expression.’

The Sound I Saw features over 100 black-and-white photos of jazz musicians, including jazz greats Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. A musician as well as a photographer, DeCarava’s portraits demonstrate his sympathy for his subjects. He says, ‘Print the idea, not the whole picture.’ 

The Sound I Saw comes to New Zealand from the Studio Museum, Harlem—where it first showed in 1983—and the US Information Service. The opening includes a live jazz performance, and jazz performances—featuring Terry Crawford Trio with vocalist Dave Feehan, Geoff Hughes/Lee Jackson Quartet, Paul Dyne Quintet, and the Primitive Art Group–occur through the opening week. A twenty-minute video documentary Conversations with Roy DeCarava plays in the gallery. Los Angeles Times calls it as 'a tale of survival in the abyss of racism and of a philosophy of art shaped by deplorable social conditions’.