Amongst the thousands of photographers on show at Paris Photo recently, there were two very dark highlights: a set of shadowy photogravures by American photographer Roy DeCarava, made in 1991 from mid-20th century negatives; and a new but equally black photobook by young Japanese photographer Daisuke Yokota.
Aside from being dark and monochrome, these two sets of pictures initially seemed to have little in common. The former is classic and figurative, the latter more experimental and abstract. But closer inspection revealed a shared inspiration between these unlike series: music.
Roy DeCarava (1919-2009) is a significant figure in the history of photography, best remembered for the tiny but beautiful 1950s book The Sweet Flypaper of Life. But perhaps his greatest book, which contains these images, was his 2004 volume The Sound I Saw, a love poem to 1950s and '60s Harlem.
There's a lot of photography that screams for your attention (especially from New York—William Klein, Bruce Gilden to name just a few), but it’s the quiet ones you need to watch. DeCarava’s pictures, although ostensibly on the subject of jazz, seem to whisper about the quiet moments in between the noise. Famous musicians almost play second fiddle to ordinary men, women and children. Music and life are so intimately woven together that they become indistinguishable. The photographs convey great feeling and often transcend the lives and the music they depict. These rich photogravures, with their dominant deep blacks, heighten their emotional power.
Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983) has already produced several photobooks. He uses both digital and analogue techniques, including repeated re-imaging, to degrade and distort his photographs. Typically, he creates layers within each individual image, in an attempt to recreate the reverberation, distortion and feedback he hears in music by the likes of Aphex Twin. The free jazz of DeCarava's vision gives way to the ordered chaos of a contemporary techno DJ in Yokota's world.