zondag 30 september 2018

Views & Reviews The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes Paris Photo Aperture 2018 Photography

The Sweet Flypaper of Life.
Photographs by Roy DeCarava. Text by Langston Hughes.
Afterword by Sherry Turner DeCarava.
First Print Press, New York, 2018.
In English. 106 pp., 141 black-and-white illustrations, 5x7½x½".

Publisher's Description
A photobook classic.

Originally published by Simon and Schuster (1955), followed by Hill & Wang (1967), and Howard University Press (1984), this fourth edition is a facsimile with vastly improved printing (Trifolio, Verona, Italy), and a new afterword by Sherry Turner DeCarava.

Heritage Edition: available both softbound and hardbound (hardbound edition limited to 1500 copies).

2018 Paris Photo-Aperture PhotoBook Award Jurors’ Special Mention

The Sweet Flypaper of Life is a "poem" about ordinary people, about teenagers around a jukebox, about children at an open fire hydrant, about riding the subway alone at night, about picket lines and artist work spaces. This renowned, life-affirming collaboration between artist Roy DeCarava and writer Langston Hughes honors in words and pictures what the authors saw, knew and felt deeply about life in their city.

Hughes’ heart-warming description of Harlem in the late 1940s and early 1950s is seen through the eyes of one grandmother, Sister Mary Bradley. We experience the sights and sounds of Harlem through her learned and worldly eyes, expressed here through Hughes’ poetic prose. As she states, "I done got my feet caught in the sweet flypaper of life and I’ll be dogged if I want to get loose." DeCarava’s photographs lay open a world of sense and feeling that begins with his perception and vision. The ruminations go beyond the limit of simple observation and contend with deeper meanings to reveal these individuals as subjects worthy of art. While Hughes states, "We’ve had so many books about how bad life is, maybe it’s time to have one showing how good it is," the photographs bring us back to this lively dialogue and a complex reality, to a resolution that stands with the optimism of the photographic medium and the certainty of DeCarava’s artistic moment.

First published in 1955, the book, widely considered a classic of photographic visual literature, was reprinted by public demand several times. This fourth printing, the Heritage Edition, is the first authorized English-language edition since 1983 and includes an afterword by Sherry Turner DeCarava tracing the history and ongoing importance of this book.

Over the course of six decades, American artist Roy DeCarava (1919–2009) produced a singular collection of black-and-white photographs of modern life that combine formal acuity with an intimate and deeply human treatment of his subject matter. Grounded by a unified theory of the visual plane, his work displays a subtle mastery of tonal and spatial elements and devotion to the medium of photography as a means of artistic expression. DeCarava created images that carry an emotional impact in their immediate relationship to the viewer, while also revealing less-than-visible terrains. DeCarava’s pioneering work privileged the aesthetic qualities of the medium, carrying the ability to reach the viewer as a counterpoint to the view of photography as mere chronicle or document and helping it to gain acceptance as an art form in its own right.

Langston Hughes (1902–1967) was a poet, novelist, playwright, and social activist. Known worldwide as a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes’s work has been significant in introducing black history and culture into the corpus of American cultural history as well as inspiring with his humanistic concerns, writers in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and South America. While living in Harlem, Hughes maintained close relationships with other writers working in and around the city—Aaron Douglas, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Wallace Thurman were all considered friends and they would frequently gather to discuss politics, writing, and literature. Together, this close group of writers was instrumental in giving voice to the communities that would not accept persecution and marginalization. Hughes’s dispatches for the New York newspapers raised quotidian reportage to an art, filing moving descriptions of the famed Harlem Brigade who were martyred during the Spanish Civil War. Later in his life Hughes turned toward collaboration, working with the German composer Kurt Weill on the 1947 opera Street Scene, with jazz musicians including Charles Mingus and with the photographer Roy DeCarava on The Sweet Flypaper of Life.

Sherry Turner DeCarava is an art historian, curator, and independent scholar in the fields of traditional arts and contemporary American photography. She has taught or lectured extensively at universities and museums, including Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), Brooklyn Museum, and Rockefeller University. Serving as the executive director, the principal focus of her professional career has been the development of The DeCarava Archives, which supports exhibition and scholarly research projects related to the work of her late husband Roy DeCarava. She is the author of two definitive texts on his photography, including that in Roy DeCarava: A Retrospective published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1996) and in Roy DeCarava: Photographs, a monograph published by the Friends of Photography/Ansel Adams Trust (1981). Awarded the Prix de la Photographie by Les Rencontres de la Photographie, the Arles Center for Culture, in its annual survey of international photography, her 1981 text was lauded as the best photo/text collaboration of the year. In 2014 she initiated First Print Press, beginning a process to republish classic Roy DeCarava books, while bringing new photographic projects into print.

The Sweet FlyPaper of Life from artemus jenkins on Vimeo.

The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes – review
This singular hybrid of photography and poetry captures 50s Harlem on the brink of change
Sean O'Hagan

Sun 30 Sep 2018 07.00 BST

Joe and Julia singing, 1953, from The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Photograph: © The Estate of Roy DeCarava ​2018. All rights reserved. Courtesy David Zwirner

The story goes that Langston Hughes met Roy DeCarava by accident on a street corner in uptown Manhattan in 1954 and was so taken by his photographs of everyday life in Harlem that he took them straight to his publishers. Simon & Schuster agreed to go ahead only if Hughes, who by then had published several novels, plays and poems, provided an accompanying text. The result, which first appeared the following year, was a hybrid book that is now recognised as a pioneering exercise in merging image and text as well as a revealing glimpse into the everyday lives of Harlem’s black community.

Now reissued by David Zwirner Books, which recently took creative charge of the DeCarava estate, The Sweet Flypaper of Life continues to cast a singular spell. Revealingly, DeCarava saw himself not as a documentarian, but as a modernist who valued his quest for “creative expression” over any desire to make “a sociological statement”. His approach was quietly subversive in its upending of traditional – and usually reductive – portrayals of black Americans in the mainstream media, where, as he noted, they were often presented “either in a superficial or a caricatured way or as a problem”.

Buoyed by a Guggenheim Fellowship – the first one given to an African American photographer – he spent a year working in Harlem, where he later said: “The people had no walls up. They just accepted me and permitted me to take their photographs without any self-consciousness.”

As its title suggests, The Sweet Flypaper of Life is an extended poem, both visually and verbally. Hughes chose to evoke the Harlem of the 1940s and early 50s through the eyes of Sister Mary Bradley, a grandmother, whose stoical lyricism speaks volumes about her neighbourhood and the wider America of the time. Her gaze, and that of DeCarava, moves from the personal – her family, her neighbours, her wayward grandson, Rodney, his girlfriends – outwards to the neighbourhood characters, children, streets, the disappearing tenements and newly built housing projects.

Graduation, 1949. Photograph: © The Estate of Roy DeCarava ​2018. All rights reserved. Courtesy David Zwirner

As the narrative progresses, the images and words dance together in a way that still surprises. One sequence of five photos of people doing nothing but hanging out is punctuated by captions that unfold as a series of associative thoughts: “It’s too bad there’re no front porches in Harlem: almost nothing except stoops to sit on… or steps... or doorways to lean in… And, in the summertime, maybe a vacant lot.”

What emerges is an intimate portrait of a close-knit community on the point of great change. “Tenements torn down and project houses building,” writes Hughes in the resigned voice of Sister Mary. “Some folks selling, other folks buying. Somebody always passing. Coming and going. Picket lines picketing. And at night street meetings on the corner – talking about ‘Buy black’… ‘Africa for the Africans...’”

The political and social tumult of the 1960s – civil rights protests, brutal state violence, the emergence of the black power movement, race riots – is still a decade away, but there are auguries here of what is to come. In her first spoken passage, Sister Mary insists that she will stay on Earth until she sees “what this integration the supreme court has decreed is going to be like”.

Later, she compares the political effort that was required to reach that same supreme court decision with her experience of the New York rush-hour subway, which “mixes everybody – white, black, Gentile and Jew – closer than you ever are to your relatives”. Everything is implied; nothing is overstated.

Of late, a few academics have noted how the narrative of The Sweet Flypaper of Life worked on two distinct levels back in the 1950s, speaking both to a white readership and, more subtly and subversively, to a black one that picked up on the nuances of Hughes’s vernacular and DeCarava’s deft rendering of the complex dynamic of life in Harlem.

It is a book, then, that continues to fascinate, even more so, perhaps, in the current political climate. Its timely reissue will hopefully alert a new generation to a still undervalued master of intimate observation and his singular collaboration with a writer who instinctively understood his radical vision.

• The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes is published by David Zwirner Books (£17.95). To order a copy for £15.44 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

DeCarava and Hughes: The Sweet Flypaper of Life
29/12/15 at 02:07 am by admin

The Sweet Flypaper of Life
Photographs by Roy DeCarava
Text by Langston Hughes
New York, N.Y. : Simon and Schuster, c1955.
Through Amazon is is possible to purchase later prints.
Trained as an artist, Roy DeCarava achieved some early success in serigraphy and like Ben Shahn took up the camera as a means to build up a body of imagery for his art work. By the later 1940s he began to concentrate on photography as his primary artistic mode, and in 1952 he became the first African-American photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. His application reads: “I want to photograph Harlem through the Negro people. Morning, noon, night, at work, going to work… talking, kidding… in the home, in the playground, in the schools… I do not want a documentary or sociological statement, I want a creative expression….”

Langston Hughes by DeCarava.

A photo out of the book.

Pages from the book.

Pages from the book.

As published in the book.

In the summer of 1954 DeCarava showed this body of work to the eminent American poet, Langston Hughes, who was immediately enthusiastic. Using his contacts in publishing Hughes obtained a contract from Simon and Schuster, and in 1955 The Sweet Flypaper of Life appeared with 140 of DeCarava’s photographs. The monologue of Hughes’s fictional narrator, Sister Mary Bradley, who lived at 113 West 134th Street in Harlem, relates the trials and joys of her extended family. DeCarava’s photographs echo the social dimensions of the textual narrative. Combined, text and image create a powerful and complex commentary on issues of pride, family, racism, and the daily struggle that is life.

See also: http://africanah.org/roy-decavara/


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