Roy DeCarava’s work explored ow much could be seen in the shadowed parts of a photograph.

Photographic technology is not value-free.

  • The dynamic film emulsions were generally calibrated for white skin. It had limited sensitivity to other skin colors.
  • Shirley cards by Kodak
  • 2009, face-recognition technology on HP webcams had difficulty recognizing black faces.

Photographers who worked with balck subjects

  • James Van Der Zee
  • Gordon Parks (subject: human dignity expressed in black communities; had clarity and technical finish in his photos; high highlights, dark shadows, well-judged midtones)


  • Chiaroscuro: combination of underexposure, darkroom virtuosity, and printing on soft paper
  • He gave the picture what they wanted, instead of imposing an agenda on them.
  • Instead of brightening blackness, he darkened it further.
  • “What is dark is neither blank nor empty. It is in fact full of wise light which, with patient seeing, can open out into glories.”
  • when we are looking at others, we might come to the understanding that they don’t have to give themselves up to us. They are allowed to stay in the shadows if they wish.

Consider the possibilities of dark gray.

Édouard Glissant

  • philosopher
  • Involved in anticolonial movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
  • He explored “opacity” or the right to not have to be understood on others’ terms, a right to be misunderstood if need be.
  • Marginalized people are opaque, obscure, and inscrutable. White people desires that they be understood, illuminated, explained.
  • But an alternative stand is to be okay with things or people being obscure.

DeCarava’s influence

  • Eli Reed, Boy’s Choir of Tallahassee (2004)
  • Carrie Mae Weems, Kitchen Table Series (1990)
  • Bradford Young, cinematographer
    • Dee Rees’s “Pariah” (2011)
    • Andrew Dosunmu’s “Restless City” (2012)
    • “Mother of George” (2013)
    • Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” (2014)


Cole, T. (2015, February 19). A True Picture of Black Skin. The New York Times.