It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is definitely true of the photographs by Charles “Teenie” Harris. A renowned photographer, Harris documented the vibrant, urban community of Pittsburg from the 1930s through the 1970s. Working both independently and as staff photographer at the Pittsburg Courier, a leading national Black newspaper of the time, Harris captured more than 80,000 images of artistic and historical significance.
Housed at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, a selection of Harris’ images have been developed into a traveling exhibit, which is presently making its first appearance in the Southeast at at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library. On display at the library are 80 of Harris’ most artistic images. Each photograph chronicles a portion of Black history, while simultaneously telling cultural, social, and personal stories that remain relative and relatable in the 21st century.
“These photographs are not just for African Americans,” said Karen L. Jefferson, records manager at the library. “Anyone can relate to them because they are about family, about community, and about the changing society.”
Nicknamed “One-Shot Teenie” for his ability to capture a picture in only one take, Harris was very purposeful of the images he took. “He was really documenting the community at that time, showing Black people in a positive light,” shared Jefferson. Harris’ images depict the community working, enjoying reading and owning businesses, all activities that contradicted common stereotypes about Black America. “When you look in the background [of his photos], he’s very clear about what he’s showing.”
Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story will be on display at the AUC Woodruff Library until May 24, 2013. Complementing the exhibit is Hill District Beat: A Tribute to Teenie Harris, a video gallery of Harris’ work set to an original soundtrack, and Trezzvant Anderson: Roving Reporter and the Jim Crow South, an archival exhibit with materials highlighting Anderson’s career as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier. In conjunction with the exhibit, the AUC Woodruff Library will host a series of programs that are free and open to the public. – Kia Smith, C’2004, is social media coordinator for the Office of Communications.