Published: January 1, 2002
PITTSBURGH, PENN. – Richard Armstrong, Henry J. Heinz II director of Carnegie Museum of Art, announced that the museum has acquired the negatives of Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998). The Harris archive is an incomparable record of his-toric events and daily life in Pittsburgh’s African American community between 1936 and 1975 and is considered one of the most complete portraits of the urban experience of black Americans ever created.
“The Teenie Harris archive adds invaluable images to the museum’s photography collection,” said Armstrong. “Perhaps the fullest and most ambitious record of life in Pittsburgh over this period, Harris’s work has few peers. Pittsburghers and the many others interested in its history and art can be reassured that Teenie Harris’s photographs are here, properly maintained, and widely available.”
The nearly 80,000 negatives in this archive are a near-complete record of Harris’s career as a photographer for The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s most influential black newspapers, which at one time had four national editions as well as editions for African, West Indian and Filipino readers. Harris not only recorded personalities and events during a period of momentous change for black Americans, but he also captured thousands of average people at work and at play, creating a richly detailed visual history of Twentieth Century black life.
“Harris’s photographs of social and political events, coupled with interior shots of black-owned businesses with happy and satisfied clients, allow the viewer to appreciate the photographer’s vision of his community,” says Deborah Willis, professor of photography and imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and a national authority on African American photography.
“Through his photographs, Teenie Harris revealed a complex history of African American life, including community wealth and pride, and documented the realities of urban existence.”
In addition to the negatives in this archive, the museum already has approximately 500 vintage Harris prints in its permanent collection. A committee of experts in photography, conservation and digital media, along with representatives of the Harris family and Pittsburgh’s black community, will advise Car-negie Museum of Art on the administration of the archive.
While the immediate plan for managing the archive focuses on necessary conservation and maintenance for the negatives, ultimately the public will be able to access the Harris archive electronically. Conservation, cataloging and digital imaging processes will take three to five years. The museum is planning a major retrospective exhibition of Harris’s work in the future.
Harris was given the nickname “One Shot” by former Pittsburgh mayor David Lawrence for the photographer’s ability to capture an image with only one exposure. “He had a great eye for composition and was extremely good at showing the character of an event, or place, or person,” said Louise Lippincott, curator of Fine Arts at Carnegie Museum of Art.
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