The man behind the camera was my dad. The legacy of One Shot as an outstanding photographer and photojournalist has already been established. Many have admired and enjoyed his work. But what makes his work so great? It was the man. Under any criteria he was a remarkable man. He was an excellent dancer and he did some singing as well. He played professional baseball and professional basketball. It was this extremely rich background and experience that he was able to call upon as he launched his photographic career. This exhibition explores the tremendous breadth of his work, which he amassed over a span of more than 40 years.
Dad was born in Pittsburgh. He loved Pittsburgh with a passion. Through his photos we have been able to retain many cherished memories, despite the ravaging of Pittsburgh’s urban renewal program as it mutilated the once-thriving Hill District. It appears that in the name of progress we are forced to accept both improvement and destruction.
When Dad went to work with the Pittsburgh Courier, it was the most renowned African American newspaper of the day. It was a powerful force and the leading voice for minorities. Dad was disturbed by the negative manner in which African Americans were depicted by the mainstream press. He wanted a more evenhanded approach, and the Courier proved to be the perfect vehicle to get this message across.
He took photos throughout the community showing its social and business life. There were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, church and school events, social clubs, birthday parties, and other positive images. He understood the workings of the community: the racial discrimination and the politics of those days as well as the hardships endured by those less fortunate who lived in the poverty of the slums. The negative side was not ignored or sugarcoated. It was handled normally, but not sensationalized.
Dad’s lens offered an equal opportunity to all. Those who faced that lens had a feeling of being special. He was blessed with an uncanny instinct that brought out the emotions of those he photographed. His photographs are a testament to his artistry and his life.
This exhibition would have meant a lot to Dad because it refreshes our memories of what was, but is no longer. It includes photos of what he might have called the old Pittsburgh: the Crystal Barber Shop, the Crawford Grill, his own Harris Studio, and many other landmarks he observed as he covered his various assignments on the Hill. There are photos of people responsible for making the Hill such a vibrant community, such as employees of the Pittsburgh Courier, local politicians, civil rights leaders, and social groups. He also captured the famous national leaders of the day, including Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy, and celebrities such as Lena Horne, Roberto Clemente, and Joe Louis. Among the family photos shown here is Dad’s favorite, a picture of his wife Elsa reclining on the grass with the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning in the background. A photo of one of his basketball teammates, Charley Heard, is also included. The sprinkling of images of birthday parties throughout honors Dad’s 101st birthday.
There is another aspect of this exhibition that would have been extremely pleasing to Dad. He loved kids, and he would have appreciated that this exhibition is introducing young people to the possibilities of photography through the “One Shot Teenie Harris Photo Contest.” The contest theme is “Shoot pictures, not guns.” He would have been very proud, knowing these kids had gone out and worked so hard and have been rewarded by having their photos displayed beside his in Carnegie Museum of Art. This is a way of opening doors to children, something that he always advocated.
—Charles A. Harris