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Black History in Pictures:
The Photographs of Charles "Teenie" Harris

Charles Teenie Harris

Teenie Harris' Self-Portrait, c. 1940
Photo courtesy of Westmoreland Museum of American Art

Staff Report

GREENSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, 3 May 2001 - Prolific photojournalist and portrait photographer Charles Harris chronicled the African-American community in Pittsburgh for over forty years, producing more than 80,000 images which graphically conveyed the twentieth century black experience to a national audience. Now, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburgh Pennsylvania has mounted an exhibition of his work, entitled Spirit of a Community: The Photographs of Charles 'Teenie' Harris.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1908, Harris worked both freelance and, notably, for the Pittsburgh Courier, a black news weekly of national note. Nicknamed "One Shot" by Mayor David L. Lawrence because of his habit of snapping only one shot of any subject, Harris was principal photographer for the Courier from 1931 until his retirement in 1975.

Whether backstage with Dizzy Gillespie and Lena Horne, in the dugout with Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, or on the streets of the Hill District or Homewood-Brushton, Harris documented black Pittsburgh with his photographs.

Charles Teenie Harris: Duke Ellington
Charles Teenie Harris: Duke Ellington Signing Autographs 1940
Photo courtesy of Westmoreland Museum of American Art

Domestics, porters, teamsters, millworkers and their children are as present in these images as American presidents and other national celebrities. Moreover, despite the deeply sympathetic and often up-beat nature of the images, the viewer is still struck by the aura of racism and segregation that framed and inevitably marked the lives of Pittsburgh's black citizens.

This exhibition is the first time Harris' work has been shown in this quantity in a musem. For the last 14 years some 84,000 negatives were unavailable due to an arrangement between Harris and a private photo dealer to act as a distributor for his work, pay him royalties and protect his negatives. The agent did not fulfill the agreement and in April 2000, following litigation and a court ruling, the Harris family won the release of the negatives.

Charles Teenie Harris
Charles Teenie Harris: Protest at Isaly's
Photo courtesy of Westmoreland Museum of American Art

On view until 10 June 2001 at some 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, the exhibition consists of 82 images selected from among Harris' voluminous oeuvre, some of which have been printed for the first time for this exhibition. Together, they offer a unique look at black life in Pittsburgh from the 1930s through the 1970s.

A forty-eight page soft-back catalogue features essays by the artist's son, Charles A. Harris, guest curators Kenneth Love and Henry J. Simonds, Linda Benedict-Jones, Director of the Silver Eye Center for Photography, Pittsburgh and Cynthia Kernick, Partner, Reed Smith LLP. The catalogue costs $18.95 and is available directly from the museum.

Westmoreland Museum of American Art
Greensburg, Pennsylvania
24 February - 10 June 2001
Tel: (1) 724 837 15 00

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