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part of Harris’ story of the place. His affection for his local subjects in their neighbourhoods is obvious in the pictures. 40 years of such pictures makes for a powerful document. This is because Harris’ audience was the very community that he photographed, in the place where he lived his life. As a result, Harris’ story is not of the allegorical, mythical Pittsburgh that W Eugene Smith described. It’s more like Weegee’s witnessing of New York, though Harris was arguably closer to his subjects than Weegee. His work is also unlike that of the most regarded black American photographers who were his contemporaries. Roy DeCarava, James VanDerZee and Gordon Parks each told a story about black experience in America, but none of them told the kind of story that Teenie did, in a visual vernacular and never straying far from home. Technically, Teenie Harris did not leave his pictures behind when he died; their ownership was in fact being contested. In 1986 he sold his archive to an art entrepreneur for $3,000 and a share of royalties. The pictures then became part of a commercial archive. Not having received his royalties, and refused the return of his negatives when he asked for them, Harris sued in 1998, but died shortly afterwards. His family persisted with the lawsuit, and while the jury found in their favour, they settled out of court and offered the archive for sale to the Carnegie Museum of Art. Funded by the Heinz Endowment and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Teenie Harris Archive Project at the CMOA has been cataloguing and digitising Harris’ negatives. Cataloguers make note of as much unique detail as possible: curtains, with roses or ships; wallpaper patterns; all of the ephemera and incidentals of the day to day are accounted for in the aid of resolving who the subjects are, and when the picture was made. The cataloguing and scanning process is time-consuming – on a good day each of the two scanners and two cataloguers get through about 80 images: 20,000 4x5 negatives remain to be scanned. The project has undertaken extensive outreach efforts. Two exhibits, in 2003 and 2006, invited residents to ID people in Harris’ pictures and books of photographs are also taken to community events, together resulting in

Left: Duke Ellington signing autographs in a crowd, 1940-1947 Above top: Hubert Ivey in the club room of the Hillside House, Beltzhoover, 1960-1965 Above middle: Little boy boxer, c 1949 Above bottom:Three men and three women seated at a table in a bar or restaurant, c 1959 All images © Carnegie Museum of Art

nearly 2,000 identifications. A database on the museum website has produced nearly a thousand IDs since the end of 2006. Archivist Kerin Shellenbarger notes that many of the identifications have been made by the same 20 or 30 people, who remember their parents’ friends and are also able to recognise figures from their own generation. For all the gaps in information that remain, the archive is nonetheless a coherent and powerful body of images, and has proven to be a major resource of images of black history in the United States. The Teenie Harris Archive Project has created conditions that allow these pictures to be appreciated as both public resource and deeply personal experience. Witness the experience of Hubert Ivey, a guard at the museum. In the early ’60s Ivey was president of the Pittsburgh chapter of an association of black tavern owners and protested Iron City Beer’s then-policy of not hiring black sales reps. Teenie made a picture of the 26-yearold Ivey and his partner in the bar they owned. In 2003 Ivey was visiting the first Teenie Harris exhibit. He turned around to find the picture of his bar, and of himself, on the wall behind him. Leo Hsu This year is the centenary of Teenie Harris’s birth. His work and life will be celebrated with a retrospective at the Carnegie in 2010.


Issue 23  

8 Magazine: Issue 23

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