Mr. DeCarava spent most of his career working near his birthplace in Harlem as he focused his cameras on lonely children, tired workers, expressive jazz musicians and bleak street corners. He collaborated with poet Langston Hughes on a highly praised book, "Sweet Flypaper of Life," in 1955 and received early encouragement from Edward Steichen, one of the formative figures of photography as an art form.
Mr. DeCarava (pronounced dee-cuh-RAH-vuh) chose African American life as his subject and photographed many high-profile black artists, including Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Yet he fought against being stereotyped as a "black artist," once going so far as to withdraw his works from an exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even so, he and Gordon Parks, with whom he had a long dispute, are often considered the foremost African American photographers of the 20th century.
His fellow photographers long recognized the eloquence of Mr. DeCarava's work, but he didn't gain broad public acclaim until a 1996 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The 200 photographs in that exhibition, which traveled to Washington and other cities, presented a world unto itself as Mr. DeCarava portrayed children with unnaturally aged faces, couples dancing in kitchens and sweat-stained men trudging home from work.