Stumbling upon photographer Teenie Harris was a fortuitous piece of luck while reading David Maraniss’ biography of baseball great Roberto Clemente, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero.
Nicknamed “One Shot” because he rarely made a subject sit through retakes, Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998) photographed Pittsburgh’s African American community at his photography studio and from 1936 until 1975 as a staffer with the Pittsburgh Courier, one of America’s oldest local black newspapers.
In his dual capacities as commercial and news photographer, Harris photographed both celebrities (Earl Hines, Lena Horne, Harry Truman, Jackie Robinson) and local figures. Collectively, his work provides an emotively vibrant group portrait of a community’s everyday life as played out against the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras. (According to Jonathan Gaugler at the Carnegie Museum of Art, women in the community would stop by Harris’ studio immediately after they got their hair done, sit down and turn away from the camera. They had come for portraits of their new hairdos, and Harris obliged.)
In 2001, the Carnegie Museum of Art was entrusted with the Teenie Harris Archive of nearly 80,000 negatives. Almost 1,000 images can be viewed on the museum’s website.
Fun fact: dozens of Harris’ images capture Negro League baseball players from the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a team for which Harris himself played when they were the Crawford Colored Giants.
Wright:The Queen Is Dead celebrates its 25th anniversary this week and this image is now in the National Portrait Gallery collection – yet it was taken by someone whose darkroom was also his bedroom and whose processing chemicals were kept in old lemonade bottles. I think the cheap equipment, and the fact there was so little light, gave it a grittiness, like a 1950s picture. Morrissey sent a card saying: “A sweeter set of photos were never taken.”
If there were ever a Mount Rushmore of rock’n’roll, Fats Domino would certainly be one of the faces up there, along with Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. He was one of the guys that transitioned rhythm and blues into rock’n’roll.