Between 1935 and 1975, Charles “Teenie” Harris worked as a photographer for The Pittsburgh Courier, documenting the African-American community throughout some of the most transformative years in the city’s history.
“People know the big hits, like slavery, the Jim Crow laws and Civil Rights, but in between that were the highs and lows of real life,” says Charlene Foggie-Barnett, who was photographed by Harris many times as a child. “Teenie is the proof of how African Americans actually lived.”
三级成人视频Harris, who died in 1998 at the age of 90, was nicknamed Teenie by a cousin, though he was better known locally as “one shot” for his ability to capture the picture he wanted in a single exposure, while other photographers would hedge their bets with half-a-dozen shots or more.
Foggie-Barnett’s father was a bishop in the church across the street from the offices of the Courier; Harris would often drop in for a game of table tennis or a sandwich – or to moonlight as a wedding photographer. “My father married everybody,” she tells me. “And Teenie shot everybody.”
Today, Foggie-Barnett, 62, looks after the Teenie Harris archive at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, which acquired nearly 70,000 of his negatives in 2001. Almost 60,000 of them have been digitised and can now be viewed on the museum’s website.
Among Foggie-Barnett’s tasks is identifying and, where possible, interviewing the people seen in Harris’s pictures, a process that can utterly change their meaning. She points out a photograph in which an elderly woman is sitting on a sofa, talking to some young girls. It looks like a charming, everyday scene. “But what happens if I tell you that that old woman was born a slave?” asks Foggie-Barnett. “Suddenly you wonder what it is she’s saying to those girls, don’t you? You long to know.”
三级成人视频Harris’s appetite for photography was, she believes, insatiable. “He shot around the clock: this society lunch, that thing at the mayor’s office, a fire and, on his way to the next assignment, maybe someone he knew out running errands.” At night, he’d head to the clubs. “The rumour was, he’d say ‘Hey, give me three dollars for a beautiful photo of you and your lady enjoying the jazz; five dollars to get rid of it!’ ”
Harris developed every negative himself at home: in one picture of his basement, you can see his children’s train set snaking between stacked boxes of negatives and developing trays. Above them hang drying clothes, on the same wire on which Harris pegged his wet prints.
三级成人视频“This is where it came from – this wonderful collection,” Foggie-Barnett likes to tell photography students who visit for a tour of the archive. “You don’t need fancy equipment.”
Harris’s pictures sometimes provoke charged discussion: “I’ve had visitors ask me things like, ‘Are those her real clothes?’, when they see one of a woman wearing a fox fur or something beautifully tailored,” she says. “Or, ‘I didn’t know black people had cars like this – I thought they just drove cars like this for white people’.”
Harris loved automobiles (before he took up photography, he was listed in the Pittsburgh phone directory as “chauffeur”). Buicks, Chryslers and Duesenbergs all feature in his pictures, lit as carefully as any human portrait. Cars may seem a frivolous thing to be photographing at the height of Civil Rights but, as Pittsburgh-born journalist Brentin Mock notes on the museum’s website, for many African Americans they were a symbol of freedom. “Despite all the racial discrimination of the era, we were still going places,” he writes, “and cars were helping us get there”.
三级成人视频Politics comes to the surface in Harris’s photographs of, for example, men and women gathering at Freedom Corner for the 1963 “March on Washington” or of the 1968 riots in Pittsburgh’s Hill District sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King.
“Pittsburgh was a pivotal arena for Civil Rights,” says Foggie-Barnett, whose father was one of the movement’s leaders. “Its position – just over the Mason-Dixon Line [which in the 19th-century divided the southern slave states from the northern free states] and on the underground railway meant that a lot of people came through. It was where the heartbeat of the black community could be felt.”
In its heyday, the Courier was the main source of news for the African-American community and not just in Pittsburgh – people read it across America. Harris’s position on the paper brought him face-to-face with such illustrious visitors to the city as John F Kennedy and Dwight D Eisenhower, not to mention Duke Ellington, Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis Jnr, all of whom performed in the Hill District’s jazz club (not for nothing was the neighbourhood known as “Little Harlem”).
Even so, it is the photographs that Harris took of his friends and neighbours – having their hair cut, attending little league baseball games or simply enjoying a Sunday stroll – that viewers seem to cherish the most.
“He just had a way,” Foggie-Barnett says, when I ask her about their appeal. “He brought out something in people; they became beautiful in his presence.”
When photographing a group of women, she tells me, “he’d say something like, ‘Pull that skirt down, before your husband shoots me’, and he’d know, for example that Susie and Amy were not speaking, so he’d be sure to position them apart. To a child, he’d bend right down on one knee, maybe straighten out your clothes, and say, ‘I’m gonna take this one time, so don’t move.’
“He had this trick we all loved, where after the flash crackled and popped” – Harris used an old-fashioned Speed Graphic camera, the type you see in classic movies – “he’d take the bulb out, playfully catch it and blow on it because it was hot, and say, ‘Can I give her this?’ to your mom. We kids competed to have the most. We were all charmed by him, all of us.”
三级成人视频Even now, to look at the ostensibly everyday scenes he captured is to feel a charge: stories shoot through them like an electric current. Perhaps that’s because, even though hardly anything seems to be happening in them, we now know – or are beginning to know – just how much really was.
“People sometimes cry when they see them,” says Foggie-Barnett. “The joy that it brings them to find their history. The pride they feel. To have been part of it, to have kept going.”
Visit the Teenie Harris archive online at cmoa.org/art/teenie- harris-archive/