Architecture + Teenie Harris


Charles "Teenie" Harris," Dramatic sky seen from Penn Avenue near Homewood, c. 1943,  gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1996.69.224 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Dramatic sky seen from Penn Avenue near Homewood, c. 1943, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1996.69.224 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Teenie Harris is perhaps best known for his ability to photograph people and capture their spectrum of expressions as well as truthfully document their life events. He was surrounded by family, friends, and a large community who seemed to be drawn to him and offered their trust to his lens, as well as frequently “photobombed” the margins of his frame while he was on assignment.

But Harris also had a keen eye for architecture and the urban landscape—he was known to have a deep love for the city of Pittsburgh, and at times it seems as if the city itself was another member of his community. His landscape and architectural images show the same intimacy and the deliberate and careful composition that he used when photographing children playing in the street or a family being evicted from their home.

___
Come see Architecture + Photography at the Heinz Architectural Center, closing May 26!
___

He quit school after the eighth grade, had no formal photographic training, and likely did not visit major exhibitions of photography outside of Pittsburgh. He saw thousands of images created by photojournalists in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and magazines such as Life. Yet many of his architectural images echo elements from the Modernist movement in photography that took place in the few decades before his own work. As the Heinz Architectural Center’s Architecture + Photography exhibition closes next week, I wanted to take a quick look at Teenie’s contributions to the field.

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Garage, possibly Achermans Auto Service, with two wooden doors, signs advertising Champions spark plugs, and oil can on ground, c. 1938-1945, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14084 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Garage, possibly Achermans Auto Service, with two wooden doors, signs advertising Champions spark plugs, and oil can on ground, c. 1938–1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14084 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Garage, possibly Store entryway with mannequins modeling furs and broken door window, c. 1940-1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38338 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Garage, possibly Store entryway with mannequins modeling furs and broken door window, c. 1940–1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38338 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Brick building with Pepsi and "Meats" signs in window and corrugated metal awning, street no. 622, c. 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.50618 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Brick building with Pepsi and “Meats” signs in window and corrugated metal awning, street no. 622, c. 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.50618 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Window set in brick wall at construction site, with brick building in background, c. 1950-1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.42032 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Window set in brick wall at construction site, with brick building in background, c. 1950–1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.42032 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

The largest portion of his architectural images was taken for documentation purposes.  He photographed the buildings that housed businesses—and often over and over, as one business replaced another—for advertisements or Pittsburgh Courier work. It is possible that some of the pictures he made of residencies were freelance work for his studio.  And he documented poor housing conditions, fires and accidents, new construction, and demolitions for the Courier.

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Car parked in front of La Salle Beauty School, 2107 Centre Avenue, Hill District, c. 1938-1940, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3231 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Car parked in front of La Salle Beauty School, 2107 Centre Avenue, Hill District, c. 1938–1940, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3231 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Small house with block and brick foundation, and small wooden porch and stairs, on lot surrounded by trees, c. 1950-1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.40378 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Small house with block and brick foundation, and small wooden porch and stairs, on lot surrounded by trees, c. 1950–1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.40378 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Construction of IBM Building (later United Steelworkers Building) with McManus Heating & Refrigeration truck in foreground, Stanwix Street, downtown, c. 1961-1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.13760 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Construction of IBM Building (later United Steelworkers Building) with McManus Heating & Refrigeration truck in foreground, Stanwix Street, downtown, c. 1961–1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.13760 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Demolition of Bethel AME Church with crane on left, Wylie Avenue and Elm Street, Hill District, July 24, 1957, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4054 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Demolition of Bethel AME Church with crane on left, Wylie Avenue and Elm Street, Hill District, July 24, 1957, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4054 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Wabash Terminal under demolition, with AMOCO Gas sign on right, corner of Fourth Avenue and Ferry Street, Downtown, c. 1946, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.10988 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Wabash Terminal under demolition, with AMOCO Gas sign on right, corner of Fourth Avenue and Ferry Street, Downtown, c. 1946, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.10988 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Some of his architectural images have the same grandeur and monumentality of early photographs of ancient sites and buildings.  And in fact, he was capturing the monuments of his city and its buildings and places especially important to the African American community—including places that were the landmarks of his own life or the neighborhood’s—as well as their destruction.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Exterior of Kay Boys' Club, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1940-1945, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3408 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Exterior of Kay Boys’ Club, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1940–1945, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3408 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Exterior of the Loendi Club, 83 Fullerton Avenue, Hill District, July 1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3415 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Exterior of the Loendi Club, 83 Fullerton Avenue, Hill District, July 1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3415 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Clark Memorial Baptist Church, 1301 Glenn Street, Homestead, c. 1945-1950, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4026 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Clark Memorial Baptist Church, 1301 Glenn Street, Homestead, c. 1945–1950, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4026 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Crystal Billiard Parlor, with clock reading 2:25, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1941-1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.2235 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Crystal Billiard Parlor, with clock reading 2:25, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1941–1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.2235 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Billiard Parlor being razed, 1400 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1958-1961, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.9080 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Billiard Parlor being razed, 1400 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1958–1961, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.9080 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

But much of his architectural photography still contains people.  He used building elements and their shadows as framing devices, included figures to increase the emotional impact or perhaps show scale, or showed how others interacted in the built spaces of his city.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of men and women, including two women holding canes, gathered in front of Rodman Street Baptist Church, East Liberty, 1964, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.20919 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of men and women, including two women holding canes, gathered in front of Rodman Street Baptist Church, East Liberty, 1964, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.20919 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Groom Roland M. Sawyer, and bride Aileen Eckstein Sawyer wearing long sheer train, posed on steps of The Thimble Shop, 5913 Bryant Street, Highland Park, another version, August 1938, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38923 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Groom Roland M. Sawyer, and bride Aileen Eckstein Sawyer wearing long sheer train, posed on steps of The Thimble Shop, 5913 Bryant Street, Highland Park, another version, August 1938, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38923 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, University of Pittsburgh students Edith Johnson, Mary Louise Wray Stewart, Esther Dalton, and Mary Jane Mitchell Page, on steps of Cathedral of Learning, with Pearl Johnson Hairston, Geraldine, and Jacqueline Ford in background, c. 1945-1948, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4754 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, University of Pittsburgh students Edith Johnson, Mary Louise Wray Stewart, Esther Dalton, and Mary Jane Mitchell Page, on steps of Cathedral of Learning, with Pearl Johnson Hairston, Geraldine, and Jacqueline Ford in background, c. 1945–1948, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4754 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Two girls in front of brick row houses with wooden porches and stairs, c. 1949-1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6511 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Two girls in front of brick row houses with wooden porches and stairs, c. 1949–1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6511 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Three boys, including one pointing, in field with Bedford Dwellings housing project in background, Hill District, c. 1940-1950, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.36007 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Three boys, including one pointing, in field with Bedford Dwellings housing project in background, Hill District, c. 1940–1950, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.36007 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive