The renowned photographer James Van Derzee, in tuxedo and red carnation, sat in a wheelchair outside the Executive Room of the Capitol Hilton last night and launched into a discussion of hand-coloring. He is 92.

He continued, oblivious to the approach of a striking young woman in pale peach evening gown with thin gold jewelry around her neck and wrists. She seated herself comfortably next to Van Derzee and flashed a smile of interruption.

"Excuse me," she said, "I'm Donna Van Derzee and I handle his business." Mrs. Van Derzee is 32.

James Van Derzee was one of 17 so-called "aged" blacks honored by President Carter yesterday for distinction in their fields of activity. However, as President Carter noted at a luncheon for them yesterday, they all seemed less aged than "ambitious."

Van Derzee was a case in point as he enthusiastically talked about photography with his wife at his side. They met through a friend who drove them around New York in a White Mercedes sports car, and were married last June.

In another corner of the party last night, guests clustered around Malvin Goode of New York City, former ABC television correspondent, who expounded on the lack of minorities in all types of media.

He hardly looked or sounded his 71 years.

"This is quite an honor," Goode said. "It represents some recognition of the problems that many of my generation went through. It's a pleasure to have somebody remember it wasn't easy."

The people who remembered were from the National Caucus for the Black Aged who chose the honorees and asked President Carter to present the awards. Carter had promised 25 minutes and instead stayed at the luncheon an hour and a half, garnering lavish praise from caucus members and others who attended the luncheon.

"He was so sensitive, so emotional," said one person who had been at the luncheon. "From my previous experiences with his speeches, I was afraid I would fall asleep. But this one was different."

Honoree Septima Clark, 80, of Charleston, S. C., sat through part of the reception with an untouched glass of champagne in hand as she described all the projects that she is currently involved in. Clark lost her Charleston school teaching job -- after 41 years -- in 1956 for refusing to give up her membership and position in the NAACP. "I never got my pension," she said last night with a laugh.

Dr. W. Montague Cobb, 74, a physician and one-time head of the anatomy department at Howard University's medical school, was also honored. "Well, you see my hide is covered with battle scars," he said calmly, hands folded, "and I found receiving the award very pleasant indeed."