Seeing the Sound through Roy DeCarava

To me, one of the most incredible qualities of photography is its ability to show you how something sounded or felt through a silent image. And the photographer who can do that reaches his/her viewers in a way that transcends the sense of sight, to a realm where vision becomes the catalyst for so much more.

In our new exhibition, Eyes of a Nation: A Century of American Photography, one of the joys of curating the show was handpicking those special images that not only capture a particular era, but also continue to evoke emotion today. One of those images is Dancers by Roy DeCarava. The image is intentionally printed dark, so you have to really look to see what’s happening. Once you’re able to focus, you see there are two figures, both men, who are swaying, dancing, on a hard wood floor with an audience on either side watching.

The image was taken in 1956, and DeCarava was a photographer, but also a jazz enthusiast who captured incredible images of some of the most seminal figures in jazz music; John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Art Blakey. To me, this image sounds like the music. It lets your mind wander to fill in the blank of what the next movements will be, of what they might be dancing to. It’s one of those magical images that is more than just a photograph. It was also one of the images that DeCarava connected to most. This link to a New York Times story on DeCarava lets us know exactly how he felt about this image and why it was so important to him.