The Hearing Eye: Jazz & Blues Influences in African American Visual Art

By Graham Lock; David Murray | Go to book overview

THIRTEEN
“And You Slip into the Breaks and Look Around”:
Jazz and Everyday Life in the Photographs
of Roy DeCarava

Richard Ings

The story, ideas and incidents related are expressed as a stream of images as seen
and felt through the eyes and mind of a jazz musician on a stage. Everything that
happens takes place on stage, between sets, between smiles, or an interval between a
man’s facial expressions. It is a moment, a lifetime or a set, the time that elapses is
not important
.

—Roy DeCarava, Preface to the sound i saw


TIME-LAPSE: THE BELATED PUBLICATION OF THE SOUND I SAW

the sound i saw: improvisation on a jazz theme can now be seen as Roy DeCarava’s crowning achievement as a photographer and African American artist—nearly half a century after he first conceived and planned it.1 This remarkable collection of 196 photographs weaves examples of urban photography dating from the beginning of the 1950s, when DeCarava became the first African American photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, together with informal portraits of jazz musicians, taken between 1956 and 1964, with the addition of an elliptical poetic text written by the photographer himself. Despite the originality of the concept, the sound i saw was considered too difficult and expensive to publish and was thus rendered invisible, unlike many comparable photographic books by DeCarava’s white contemporaries, until Phaidon finally stepped forward to publish it in 2001.

It is tempting to seek the reasons for this in the general invisibility imposed on black photographers and their work until very recently indeed. It is, in fact, only in the last decade or so that this absence has been adequately addressed, and then mainly by pioneering African American scholars such as Deborah

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