A Meeting With Roy DeCarava

I met Roy when I was a darkroom salesman for Camera Barn Stores. I worked there when I first moved into Manhattan and attended college at the School of Visual Arts. While working there, I met many photographers. Some famous – Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Harry Callahan, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, to name a few, and many not well known. I sold them all darkroom equipment, enlargers, trays, chemicals, enlarging paper, etc..

One day a man walked up to the counter and purchased some paper and chemicals. He handed me his credit card. On the card was the name “Roy DeCarava”. I did not know what he looked like until that moment. I said hello and that it was a pleasure to meet him.

A few years later, after graduating from SVA, I wanted to continue on and get my MFA. One of the schools I applied to was Hunter College. I knew the graduate instructors there were Roy and Mark Feldstein. Mark was a well known painter turned photographer.

I received a letter for my application interview on a certain date. I called the school to confirm and readied my portfolio for that day.

I arrived at the appointed time and sat down with Roy in is office to discuss my work, answer his questions about me, and ask questions about the school, classes, and what might be expected.

Roy looked over my work. I was doing large 30″x40″ abstract work at the time. He liked what he was looking at. We talked about the work and then he began somewhat of a quiet diatribe about students who were supported by their parents allowing them to afford to do such large photographs.

I was somewhat taken aback. I asked him if I looked familiar? He said no. I said that I worked in a camera store and sold him darkroom supplies on many occasions. He went quiet for a moment and then said with a realization, “Yes. I do. So you understand?”.

Yes. I knew what he was talking about immediately. I told him I wasn’t one of those kids who went to art school because they didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t supported by my parents. I worked in a camera store for minimum wage. The only thing I received was an employee discount at cost on supplies. That was how I could afford to make large prints.

He apologized. He told me I had to meet Mark Feldstein as well. I never did.

In the end I never attended Hunter. Not because of what transpired, but because I really wanted to get away from everything, get out of the city for awhile. Come back refreshed.

Roy was a great photographer. A wonderful man. I loved his work – dark, moody, emotional. I understood exactly what he meant when he commented on me and my work. I met so many of those other students at school. I’m sure over his career as teacher, he had met even more.

Published by Keith Goldstein

Photographer, husband, dad, and passionate cyclist. Lives and works in New York City.

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