From Harlem with Love

An Album of Life in The Sweet Flypaper of Life

  • Leonardo Cascão University of Coimbra
Keywords: African American, visual studies, visuality, aesthetics, photography, community


The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955) is the result of the collaboration between the photographer Roy DeCarava and writer Langston Hughes. Both authors were Harlemites, DeCarava was born in Harlem and Langston Hughes made Harlem his home after moving from Missouri to New York City. This essay intends to explore the ways in which The Sweet Flypaper of Life depicts a representation of the neighbourhood of Harlem at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was just beginning. It will look at the power that DeCarava’s photographs and Hughes’ text have on creating a specific visuality of African American life, based on the Harlem community, rendering itself to be seen as a family album. The essay will firstly focus on contextualizing the creation and publication of The Sweet Flypaper of Life and afterwards offer a reading of the book using the family album metaphor as a form of agency in the acknowledgment of the African American community, focusing its representation in the aestheticization of beauty, thus distancing itself from the social and racial issues that were usually exposed.