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Photographer Roy DeCarava has said that “photography is not about contrast, though most photographers think it is. It’s about tonality, the infinite gradations of white and black.” Judging by the DeCarava retrospective now at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, he’s only half right, at least about his own work. (Two Men Leaning on Posts, 1964, from the collection of the artist, is pictured.) In DeCarava’s photos, there isn’t much white; he usually explores the infinite gradations of black. This is not simply a racial issue, although DeCarava—now 78—is African-American, as are many of his subjects, ranging from family members to anonymous Harlem pedestrians to jazz giants like Ellington and Coltrane. Rather, for DeCarava, blackness and murk are an aesthetic choice. Scorning flashes and lamps, DeCarava is a master of subtle, low-light photography. Some of his photographs appear, from a distance of 3 feet, to be solid black rectangles; as one moves closer, however, their details emerge slowly, as if from an inky fog. DeCarava’s muted palette makes his work at once warmer and moodier than other photographers of his era, including Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, and Minor White. Don’t expect much artistic progression in the Corcoran show, however: DeCarava’s 1980s and 1990s photographs give off the disorienting sense that they, too, were taken in the 1950s. At least he found a good vibe and stuck with it. DeCarava and his wife, art historian Sherry Turner DeCarava, speak at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19, in the Corcoran Gallery’s Hammer Auditorium. $5. (202) 639-1727; the retrospective runs from Oct. 17-Jan. 4, 1999, at the Corcoran Gallery, 17th & New York Ave. NW. Free. (202) 639-1770. (Louis Jacobson)