Charles Harris (photographer)
Harris was born in 1908 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, the son of hotel owners in the city's Hill District. Early in the 1930s he purchased his first camera and opened a photography studio. He freelanced for the Washington, D.C. news picture magazine, Flash!. From the 1936 to 1975 Harris chronicled life in the black neighborhoods of the city for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of America's oldest black newspapers. He was nicknamed "One Shot" because he rarely made his subjects sit for retakes. Harris took more than 80,000 images during his career. The body of his work constitutes arguably the largest and most complete photographic documentation of a minority community in the United States.
Unlike his more celebrated African-American contemporaries, such as James Van Der Zee, known for studio portraits, or Gordon Parks, who traveled widely as a photojournalist, Harris was a working-class photographer tethered to a job with a circumscribed beat. His work was rarely seen outside of Pittsburgh, until after his death in 1998.
In addition to his photo essays of daily life in the city, he captured many celebrities who visited Pittsburgh, e.g. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Sam Cooke, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Charlie Parker, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Harris also photographed legendary Negro League baseball players of the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. Harris himself played baseball for the Crawfords when they were known as the Crawford Colored Giants.
He licensed his collection of photographs in 1986 to a local entrepreneur, Dennis Morgan, and subsequently these so-called "Morgan prints" were sold at street fairs in Pittsburgh. Harris filed a lawsuit in 1998 for unpaid royalties and the return of his collection. He won the case posthumously. Carnegie Museum of Art purchased the collection from the Harris estate in 2001.
Since 2003, the museum has scanned and cataloged nearly 60,000 images, many of which are available on the online collection database. Through outreach efforts, lectures and special events, and three Teenie Harris Archive Project exhibitions (in 2003, 2006, and 2009), the museum has asked for assistance in identifying the people, places, and events in the images. In 2011 the museum plans a major exhibition of his work that will tour nationally.
Harris is buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.
- Hill District (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
- Crouch, Stanley; Deborah Willis (2002). One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles "Teenie" Harris. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-3272-5.