Innovative Retrospective of Noted Photographic Artist and Photojournalist Presents a Comprehensive View of Mid-20th-Century African American Life
Exhibition Travels to Chicago, Atlanta, and Birmingham, Alabama after Debuting in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania… Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, the first major retrospective exhibition of the work and legacy of African American artist Charles “Teenie” Harris, will be on view at Carnegie Museum of Art from October 29, 2011, to April 7, 2012.
Exhibition design for Teenie Harris, Photographer has been provided by Springboard Design and Brett Yasko,Pittsburgh. Multimedia concept, design, and production is by StoweNash Associates, LLC + Iontank,Pittsburgh. The original score in the exhibition is by MCG Jazz,Pittsburgh. Website design and development is by Night Kitchen Interactive,Philadelphia.
The groundbreaking exhibition will celebrate the artist/photographer whose work is considered one of the most complete portraits anywhere of 20th-century African American experience. Large-scale, themed photographic projections of nearly 1,000 of Teenie Harris’s greatest images accompanied by an original jazz soundtrack will generate an immersive experience in the 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 catalogued and digitized images in the museum’s Teenie Harris Archive. The exhibition will offer an examination of Harris’s working process and artistry, and audio commentary on the man and his work by the people who knew him. In addition, the photographs and many of these materials will be accessible on Carnegie Museum of Art’s website.
“Since 2001, our museum has been the repository of the Teenie Harris Archive. This exhibition marks the culmination of a long effort to preserve and document an extensive collection of historically and artistically important images,” says Lynn Zelevansky, The Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art. “We are honored to present this retrospective of a photographer whose body of work gives so much to us.”
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 (1908–1998) produced more than 80,000 images ofPittsburgh’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 toPittsburgh, the nation’s industrial center. 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.
The show has been organized by Carnegie Museum of Art staff, working with an advisory committee fromPittsburgh’s African American community that provided direction for the exhibition’s content, themes, and goals. Members of the committee include Dr. Laurence Glasco, Dr. Johnson Martin, Tony Norman, Dr. Ralph Proctor, Cecile Shellman, and Dr. Joe Trotter. Members of the founding Teenie Harris Archive Advisory Committee include Neil Barclay, Oliver W. Byrd, Dr. Laurence Glasco, Charles A. Harris, Gladys Maharam, William Strickland Jr., Dr. Nancy Washington, and Dr. Deborah Willis; and project consultants Paul Messier, Elizabeth Shaw, Dr. Ralph Proctor, and John Brewer. Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art is project manager for the exhibition and Kerin Shellenbarger is the Teenie Harris archivist.
Charles “Teenie” Harris
Teenie 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 photographic career in 1937 when he opened a studio and began to take on freelance assignments. In 1941, Harris was appointed staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, the nation’s preeminent black newsweekly. His images were disseminated nationally through the Courier, and played a key role in how African Americans visualized themselves.
Like the Scurlock Studio in Washington, DC, 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 mid-century America. His images captured daily life in the Hill—weddings, funerals, family portraits, parades, church events, street scenes, graduations—as well as of the great men and women who visited the neighborhood, including Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Robeson, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lena Horne, and Muhammad Ali. Some of the country’s finest jazz musicians—Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, Sarah Vaughan, and Duke Ellington—were photographed by Harris alongside bartenders, waitresses, and dancing crowds.
The longevity of Harris’s career offers an outlook on historic shifts that took place in the lives of African Americans everywhere. In the era of segregated baseball, for example, Harris photographed two legendary Negro League baseball teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords (which Harris cofounded in the mid-1920s) and Homestead Grays. Later, when baseball’s color barrier was broken, he photographed African American major league baseball players like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente along with their teammates. The pride and optimism evident in Harris’s photos of the Double V campaign from the World War II era (victory abroad, victory for racial equality at home), turned to growing moods of frustration and anger evident in images of militant protests in the late 1950s and 1960s. These photographs provide important insights to issues that are still pertinent today.
“Teenie Harris had great empathy with his subjects and a talent for storytelling,” says Lippincott. “His images transcend place. Powerful and personal, they connect today’s viewers with a proud past and a vibrant artistic and cultural heritage. We hope that through this retrospective and traveling exhibition, Harris will be established in the canons of art, history, and photography.”
About the Exhibition
Nearly 1,000 of Harris’s most striking and iconic photographs will be digitally projected as life-sized images in the opening gallery. The images, organized into seven sections—“Crossroads,” “Gatherings,” “Urban Landscapes,” “Style,” “At Home,” “The Rise and Fall of the Crawford Grill,” and “Words and Signs”—will be synchronized with an original jazz score produced by MCG Jazz, one of the nation’s top organizations dedicated to the preservation, presentation, and promotion of jazz music. A second gallery will feature a chronological installation of small prints of the projected images that will include a referencing system for in-depth exploration of each photograph through a bank of computers and books also located in the gallery. In addition, the computers will provide access to the interactive website that has been created for the show.
At the entrance to the third gallery, a mini exhibition of 12 fine-art-quality 16 x 20” prints selected by 12 experts will be accompanied by their personal analyses of the meaning, significance, and beauty of the chosen images. This gallery will also feature a large-scale map showing the places Harris lived, worked, and photographed and a multimedia presentation called “Artist at Work” that demonstrates Harris’s technical skill and artistic vision, and shows how newspapers and publishers cropped and edited his work in order to tell a particular story. “Artist at Work” marries audio recordings of the stories and memories of Teenie Harris, as told by his family, friends, colleagues, and models, with a montage of projected images relating to their tales.
In addition to an exhibition-specific website, the museum is collaborating with theUniversityofPittsburgh Presson an illustrated book offering new and unpublished scholarship about Harris, his work, and his times that will impact the fields of American and African American art, culture, and history.
About the Teenie Harris Archive
In 2001, Carnegie Museum of Art acquired the Teenie Harris archive from the Harris family and began a multiyear project to preserve, catalogue, digitize, and make the images available on the museum’s website for public view. Few of Harris’s negatives were titled and dated; since the acquisition of the archive, the museum has invited the public to help in the identification of the people, places, and activities in the photographs through a series of museum-based displays of his work, outreach presentations, meetings with oral historians, and online response forms that accompany the continually growing display of images on the museum’s website.
The Teenie Harris Archive Project is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which designated the archive a “We the People” project in the spring of 2007. “We the People” is an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture. Initial support for the Teenie Harris Archive Project was provided by the Heinz Endowments.
Following its debut inPittsburgh, the exhibition will be on view atChicago’sHaroldWashingtonLibraryCenter, February–May 2012; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute,Birmingham,Alabama, August 7–October 28, 2012; and the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library,Atlanta,Georgia, January 20–April 13, 2013.
A 208-page book on the life and work of Teenie Harris accompanies the exhibition. Featuring a preface by Deborah Willis and significant essays by scholars Cheryl Finley,Laurence Glasco, and Joe Trotter, the book analyzes Harris as an artist for the first time, explores the social and historical context of his photographs, and provides a detailed biography of the photographer. The book includes 100 plates of Harris’s signature work and a complete bibliography and chronology. It is published by theUniversity ofPittsburgh Press in cooperation with Carnegie Museum of Art and will be available for $24.95 in softcover, and $55 in hardcover.
An enhanced CD of the exhibition soundtrack synced to images from the show will also be available for purchase.
Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story offers a variety of complementary special activities, including an opening gala, a discussion by the exhibition’s advisory committee, a symposium, and gospel concert. Linda Johnson Rice, Chairman of Johnson Publishing Company , which is the publisher of EBONY and JET magazines, and nationally known actor and Pittsburgh native Bill Nunn will preside over the opening gala on October 28, 2011. Revealing the American Story: Personal Perspectives from the Teenie Harris Advisory Committee, to be held Saturday, October 29, 2011, will offer information and insights on the debates, discussions, and discoveries that shaped the exhibition. CMA director Lynn Zelevansky will lead committee membersLaurence Glasco, Johnson Martin, Tony Norman, Ralph Proctor,Cecile Shellman, and Joe Trotter in the discussion with exhibition organizer and CMA curator of fine arts Louise Lippincott and Teenie Harris Collection archivist Kerin Shellenbarger,.
A symposium, History in the Making: Photography and the Daily Life of the City, to be held January 28, 2012, will consider photography and the urban experience, bringing together photography historians Cheryl Finley and Nicole Fleetwood; photographers Melissa Farlow, Richard Kelly, and Mark Perrott (featured in the concurrent exhibition Picturing the City: Downtown Pittsburgh, 2007–2010); artist and landscape architect Walter Hood; and CMA curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones. On February 26, 2012, Carnegie Museum of Art will present Raising Voices: Community Choirs Gospel Concert, featuring regional gospel choirs in a community concert performed against the background of Teenie Harris’s photographs.
Other programs related to Teenie Harris include Picturing Me, afterschool workshops for middle- and-high-school students that encourage participants to explore their personal goals through photographic instruction and experimentation culminating in an exhibition at the museum. There will also be evening events for young adults and complementary programming atPittsburgh’sAugustWilsonCenter and Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.
Major support for this exhibition was provided by PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., The National Endowment for the Humanities, and Richard King Mellon Foundation. Support was also provided by The Heinz Endowments and the Virginia Kaufman Fund. Support for the exhibition soundtrack was provided by BNY Mellon. Other generous support was provided by The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Fellows of Carnegie Museum of Art and the Beal Publication Fund.
Located at 4400 Forbes Avenuein the Oaklandsection of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, it is nationally and internationally recognized for its distinguished collection of American and European works from the 16th century to the present. The HeinzArchitecturalCenter, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to enhancing understanding of the physical environment through its exhibitions, collections, and public programs. For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, call 412.622.3131 or visit our website at www.cmoa.org.