Published: October 18, 2011
“Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story” is the first major retrospective exhibition of the work of African American artist-photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris. It will be on view at Carnegie Museum of Art from October 29 to April 7.
During his 40-year career as freelance and staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier , one of the nation’s most influential black newspapers, Teenie Harris (1908‱998) produced more than 80,000 images of Pittsburgh’s African American community. The photographs, taken from the 1930s to the 1970s, capture a period of momentous change for black Americans. His subjects ranged from the everyday lives of ordinary people to visits by powerful and glamorous national figures. From birthday celebrations to civil rights boycotts, the distinctive vision of Harris’s photographs folds into the larger narrative of American history, art and culture.
Large-scale, themed photographic projections of nearly 1,000 of Harris’s greatest images accompanied by an original jazz soundtrack will generate an immersive experience in the innovative exhibition’s opening gallery. Subsequent galleries will present a chronological display of these photographs at a conventional scale, and give visitor access to the more than 73,000 cataloged and digitized images from the archive.
Harris grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, a neighborhood once called “the crossroads of the world.” A serious photographer from the age of 18, he started his professional career in 1937 when he opened a studio. In 1941, Harris was appointed staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier , and his images were disseminated nationally through the Courier .
Like the Scurlock Studio in Washington, D.C., James Van Der Zee in New York, and P.H. Polk in Alabama, Harris depicted an innovative and thriving black urban community, in spite of the segregationist policies and attitudes of midcentury America. His images captured daily life in the Hill as well as the great men and women who visited the neighborhood, including Martin Luther King Jr, Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lena Horne and Muhammad Ali. Some of the country’s finest jazz musicians †Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington Ahmad Jamal and Sarah Vaughan †were photographed by Harris alongside bartenders, waitresses and dancing crowds.
In 2001, the Carnegie Museum acquired the Teenie Harris archive from the Harris family and began a multiyear project to preserve, catalog, digitize and make the images available on the museum’s website.
The exhibition will travel to Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center, February⁍ay 2012; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama, August 7⁏ctober 28, 2012; and the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, Georgia, January 20⁁pril 13, 2013.
Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in cooperation with Carnegie Museum of Art, a 208-page book on the life and work of Harris accompanies the exhibition. The book includes 100 plates of Harris’s work and a complete bibliography and chronology; texts analyze Harris as an artist, and explore the social and historical context of his photographs.
The Carnegie Museum of Art is at 4400 Forbes Avenue. For more information 412-622-3131 or www.cmoa.org .
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