Category Archives: Photography

What Does It Mean for a Museum To Be Truly Experimental?


Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014.

Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014

Ever since Carnegie Museum of Art launched the Hillman Photography Initiative earlier this year, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means for a museum to be truly experimental. When I began my research three years ago, the major premise of the Initiative was to create something totally new in the field of photography. On the other side of a successful launch, I now realize just how ambitious our goal was. But at the time, it felt more like an amorphous challenge, albeit one that had all my problem-solving neurons firing. As with any experiment, we didn’t have a clear understanding of how the Initiative would manifest or what form it would take. Now that the project is up and running, I find myself looking back at how the Initiative was realized and some of the things we’ve learned so far.

BEGINNINGS

For the initial concept phase, the goal was to be nimble and flexible, and to see what would happen when that nimbleness and flexibility confronted the complex workflow of the museum. You can read about those first two years here, in a post I wrote when we first announced the Initiative as a living laboratory for exploring the rapidly changing field of photography and its impact on the world. In it, I provide a window into the innovative process that required me to think unconventionally on a daily basis, and which led me to create a spiderlike concept map that reflected the dozens of (often opposing) paths I followed to explore the expansive world of photographic production, distribution, and consumption.

L to R: Hillman Photography initiative "agents" Alex Klein, Arthur Ou, and Marvin Heiferman meeting with CMOA staff to discuss the current state and future of photography and to begin planning for the project.

L to R: Hillman Photography initiative “agents” Alex Klein, Arthur Ou, and Marvin Heiferman meeting with CMOA staff to discuss the current state and future of photography and to begin planning for the project

When I wrote that post last year, we were preparing to embark upon an intensive four-month planning process that gathered five internationally known experts (aka “agents”) together in a far-ranging conversation about photography. The agents include Tina Kukielski (our internal CMOA agent and co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International), Marvin Heiferman (independent curator and writer), Illah Nourbakhsh (professor of robotics and director of the CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University), Alex Klein (the Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber Program Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia), and Arthur Ou (assistant professor of photography at Parsons The New School for Design). We asked them to consider what the most exciting issues and questions were in field in which billions of images were shared daily and on a global basis. For teachers, what made their students sit up and listen? For curators, how did their research connect with the person on the street? For artists, how did the digital revolution affect their practice? What aspects of photography did they—the experts—discuss around the kitchen table with their partners, friends, and kids?

This Picture explores what photographic images can say and do by tracking the responses and feedback a single image can trigger and generate. The public is invited to submit responses to a carefully selected photograph each month. Image: Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Misfits, 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

This Picture explores what photographic images can say and do by tracking the responses and feedback a single image can trigger and generate. The public is invited to submit responses to a carefully selected photograph each month. Image: Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Misfits, 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

As a result of those incredibly stimulating conversations we came to the realization that the most interesting aspect of photography today is how it travels. From creation through transmission, distribution, circulation, appropriation, and (at times) even death, the photograph follows a lifecycle that can be physical or virtual (or both). The projects that emerged from these discussions—This Picture, The Invisible Photograph, The Sandbox, A People’s History of Pittsburgh, and Orphaned Images—all explore the concept of this lifecycle and speak to each other as much as they do to that central concept.

A People’s History of Pittsburgh compiles family-owned, found, and anonymous photographs from the city’s residents to create an online archive that unearths and reconstructs narratives through the lives of Pittsburghers. Image: The Baron family's Croatian tamburitza band, Braddock, PA, January 23, 1930, Submitted by Jennifer Baron.

A People’s History of Pittsburgh compiles family-owned, found, and anonymous photographs from the city’s residents to create an online archive that unearths and reconstructs narratives through the lives of Pittsburghers. Image: The Baron family’s Croatian tamburitza band, Braddock, PA, January 23, 1930, Submitted by Jennifer Baron

As the researcher who spent a year analyzing the state of the field, benchmarking other museums and photography centers, and reaching out to international experts in photography, I can confidently say that the process we followed to create the structure behind the Initiative was truly unique. And as the program manager who spent the following two years developing and implementing the process that gave our agents carte blanche to come up with the projects you see on our website today, I can just as confidently say that the Initiative’s engagement with photography’s various manifestations is similarly unique.

The Sandbox: At Play with the Photobook includes a temporary reading room and event space at the museum, with programming investigating the many ways that photobooks present and interpret images. Photographers Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar of Spaces Corners, a Pittsburgh bookshop specializing in photography books, staff the reading room.

The Sandbox: At Play with the Photobook includes a temporary reading room and event space at the museum, with programming investigating the many ways that photobooks present and interpret images. Photographers Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar of Spaces Corners, a Pittsburgh bookshop specializing in photography books, staff the reading room.

LEAP HEADFIRST (& RALLY THE TROOPS)

Since that first meeting of the agents last April, we’ve gone from a completely blank slate to an intricate set of online and onsite projects that explore complex issues. Reflecting back on the initial stages of our process, I’d say true experimentation in a museum setting requires a willingness to leap headfirst into the unknown (relevant research and benchmarking in tow, of course). It also requires some high-level buy-in to the idea that the outcome will most likely challenge some established museum processes. For example, most of our internal processes revolve around the development, approval, and implementation of exhibitions and events. Typically an exhibition is proposed by a curator and is then reviewed and approved by an internal group of departmental directors. However, the Initiative was developed and implemented outside of that normal workflow.  The point was to ask outside voices (the agents) to propose the projects that the museum would then implement and build. Maybe true experimentation happens when you ask not only how to pull off an experiment in the face of established processes, but how that experiment can change those traditional systems and expectations, challenging a museum to reexamine its own assumptions, benchmarks, and even its metrics of success.

Caveat: the process we’ve gone through to launch the Initiative has been, on one hand, in-depth, well-researched, and methodical. But that’s no surprise. Museums do those three adjectives pretty well. On the other hand, it’s been totally new, without precedent and, at times, frankly terrifying in a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of way. I’ve had to pull strings and sweet-talk colleagues into doing things that weren’t even remotely noted in their job descriptions. The months leading up to the website launch were also the craziest of my professional life. Nothing we were doing was customary, usual, or practiced. Every path we were carving to make the Initiative happen was a new one that needed its own customized road crew, made up of exceptionally generous and hard-working colleagues—I couldn’t have been luckier to have had them as partners in this endeavor.

Trapped: Andy Warhol's Amiga Experiments (Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph documentary series) investigates how a team of computer scientists, archivists, artists, and curators teamed up to unearth Warhol’s lost digital works. Image: Andy Warhol, Andy1, 1985, digital image, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; From disk 1998.3.2129.3.4

Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments (Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph documentary series) investigates how a team of computer scientists, archivists, artists, and curators teamed up to unearth Warhol’s lost digital works. Image: Andy Warhol, Andy1, 1985, digital image, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; From disk 1998.3.2129.3.4

GAUGING SUCCESS

At some point during those crazy months, we realized that the process was so experimental that none of our standard benchmarking procedures would suffice as evaluation metrics. And then came the secondary epiphany: we honestly didn’t even know how to define that success, let alone measure it.

I remember the first time we convened the 15-person meeting, full of the department and division heads who had banded together to implement the Initiative, to collaboratively develop the Initiative’s metrics of success. I opened the meeting with this question: “So, how have we as a museum developed metrics of success in the past?” There was a moment of silence and then the answer: “We’ve never actually had to do that from scratch before.” Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that this program I’m managing is not only completely experimental, but the process of evaluating it is too? (This is when my problem-solving neurons got another jump start.)

So we dove in. Our director of education asked key questions like, “How does being interested in what our visitors think change the museum?” And: “Does the Initiative change the way we establish online engagement with audiences in other exhibition or collection areas?” Our web and digital media manager got us thinking when he told us he could not only track how people were navigating or clicking through the website, but where they were coming from and how long they spent on any given page. Our director of publications ruminated on whether we could use the Initiative as a model for developing standards for online writing for all museum projects, not only for content but also for tone and approach. Our marketing team discussed extending audience engagement from the typical art scene to the sciences, social sciences, and technology. From a curatorial point of view, we’re just as interested in assessing the less tangible metrics of success, such as how the Initiative shapes ideas about photography locally and internationally. How great would it be if some future program manager of another burgeoning experimental project at some hypothetical institution reached out to benchmark us?

And thus was born the “Goals and Metrics of Success” document that I find myself referring to on a regular basis. Because, like any strategic plan (or democratic constitution), you never want to be policing a dead or irrelevant document. Within days of launching the Initiative, we began gathering statistics to figure out what was going on. Were people coming to our website? Were they accessing our content? No, more: were they engaging with our content? Did we have to shift our marketing strategies? The hierarchy of content on our website? The types of demographic content we were gathering at events?

The first two installments of The Invisible Photograph documentary series (premiered online at nowseethis.org) reached a large number of viewers worldwide despite being longer-format films.

The first two installments of The Invisible Photograph documentary series (premiered online at nowseethis.org) reached a large number of viewers worldwide despite being longer-format films.

Here are some findings from our first full month of evaluation:

  • We surpassed our wildest dreams in terms of video views for Part 1 and Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph. In terms of geographical distribution, our top views outside the United States have come, in order, from the UK, Argentina, Germany, Canada, Spain, and Russia. Our videos have had truly global viewership, reaching six continents. Now, if only we could get those people in Antarctica…
  • Our two 20-minute videos had over 60,000 complete views and over 300,000 loads. This runs counter to the popular consensus that says shorter videos perform better and shows that there is significant appetite for more substantive content online. This is also double the total number of views we had of all CMOA-produced videos in 2013.
  • The Initiative’s web activity equaled the activity on all other museum sites combined, including main site, blogs, and microsites. In terms of web campaigns, nowseethis.org is on par with other high-profile web campaigns such as the 2013 Carnegie International.
  • The earned media value for the Initiative in the first month alone was approximately $4 million. To put that in perspective, in all of 2013 our earned media was $8 million, which was itself a record year for us thanks to the 2013 Carnegie International.  

From the beginning of our social media campaign on March 16, Initiative-related content more than tripled the museum’s reach of Facebook posts through user sharing and liking, with May’s This Picture having the highest level of engagement of all posts and A People’s History of Pittsburgh coming in second. We tracked a significant upward trend in people “liking” CMOA that corresponded to the launch of the Initiative, with an average increase of over 1000. On Twitter, of the top 15 posts from the museum’s account @cmoa, more than half were HPI-related. These posts saw increased reach that was sometimes three to five times greater than the average museum tweet.

A sobering statistic, however, was the relatively modest onsite attendance for the Initiative’s related programs. We think this is in large part due to the fact that, in the experimental spirit of the Initiative, we did not prioritize onsite attendance when asking the agents to propose projects. We have since realized the tension this has created with our institution’s larger mission to encourage onsite attendance. So, we’re trying to make some changes that might address this issue, such as softening the price structure to enable people to pay as much as they can, so that no one is excluded who is interested in deeply exploring our content. We’re also discovering that promoting an onsite–online connection, which is at the heart of the Initiative, is one of the harder goals to accomplish. One of the best suggestions from our last meeting, made by our associate editor, was to encourage online submissions by increasing onsite payoff. We could print submissions, post them in the gallery, and then announce the “featured submissions” on our website. We think that this onsite payoff is one of the main reasons that Oh Snap!: Your Take on Our Photographs, another experimental museum project and an important precedent for the Initiative, was such a success last year. I’ll have to keep you posted on the results of all of this self-evaluation.

GOING FORWARD

So—what have we learned? For a museum to be truly experimental it has to approach the problem in an unconventional way, challenge established processes, and take some real risks. It needs to actively evaluate and reevaluate itself to help the project stay ahead of the curve. (And most importantly, it needs the tools, knowledgeable staff, and a willingness to openly evaluate itself in the first place.) It needs to foster communication and trust among the participants. It has to ask: How does what we’ve done transform the museum? How does it shift our processes and internal working strategies? What works about the experimental method we’ve chosen and what requires some further tinkering? In the wake of articles like “Museums… So What?” by Robert Stein, deputy director of the Dallas Museum of Art, or “Lessons from a Year of Pop-Up Museums,” a guest post on the Museums 2.0 blog by Nora Grant, I think it’s even more important for museums to consider alternative means of reaching offsite audiences and engaging onsite visitors.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure: the more experimental the process, the more progressive you need to be to evaluate the outcome. Because as the old saying goes, if you don’t evaluate, you’ve already failed (or something like that). For any project that’s even remotely experimental, the need for unconventional thinking never ends, not after process development, not after implementation, and not even after evaluation. But, I would argue, therein lies the fun. And I think your problem-solving neurons would agree.

This is an expanded version of a post published on July 8, 2014, on the blog of the Center for the Future of Museums.

 

Bill Nunn Jr., 1924–2014: Newsman, Steelers Scout, Local Icon


Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of eight men, including Bill Nunn Sr., Brooklyn Dodgers baseball  players Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Courier sports reporter Chester Washington, and Teddy Horne, c. 1948-1956, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1997.34.3.3 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of eight men, including Bill Nunn Sr., Brooklyn Dodgers baseball players Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Courier sports reporter Chester Washington, and Teddy Horne, c. 1948–1956, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1997.34.3.3 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

On a sunny July afternoon in 2011, I had the privilege of going to the home of William G. Nunn Jr. and Frances Bell Nunn, to interview them for the Teenie Harris Archive’s oral histories. I had known them casually in my childhood, but as their front door opened two impressions hit me: 1) Here were some of Pittsburgh’s finest African American citizens, and (2) how much they seemed to still be in love. They greeted me, together, with big smiles and we shared a warm, informative afternoon full of both serious discussion and rich laughter.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., seated on table, c. 1960-1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3596 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., seated on table, c. 1960–1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3596 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

William Goldwyn Nunn Jr. was born on Sept. 30, 1924, and lived an incredible life. At the time of our interview, he was still going strong, despite having “officially” retired over two decades prior. While analyzing college prospects for the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 draft, he suffered a stroke, from which he would not recover. The Nunns had been married an impressive 63 years when “Bill” passed at age 89, on May 7, 2014.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Frank Bolden and Bill Nunn Jr. standing in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office with portrait of Jessie Vann on wall, c. 1950-1970, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.19317 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Frank Bolden and Bill Nunn Jr. standing in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office with portrait of Jessie Vann on wall, c. 1950–1970, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.19317 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

William Jr. was born to Maybelle and William G. Nunn—the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper. Bill Jr. had become an outstanding basketball player at West Virginia State University, and in his senior year led the team to an undefeated record. He played with two of the first three Black players to play in the NBA. Upon graduation in 1948, the Harlem Globetrotters tried to recruit him, and he found himself facing the tough choice of what to do with his life. He ultimately chose to take a job with the sports staff of the Courier, (the largest Black newspaper in the country at the time). Later, he became the sports editor, replacing the legendary Wendell Smith, and eventually became the managing editor for the paper.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Unknown man, Ralph Koger, Charles "Teenie" Harris, and Bill Nunn Jr. posed with trophies and 1968 National Newspaper Publishers Association Merit Award poster, posed in New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1960-1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.44744 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Unknown man, Ralph Koger, Charles “Teenie” Harris, and Bill Nunn Jr. posed with trophies and 1968 National Newspaper Publishers Association Merit Award poster, posed in New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1968–1969, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.44744 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

In the late 60s, Mr. Nunn was dissatisfied by the NFL not drafting more African American players. He got the ear of Art Rooney Sr., and was thus lured to the Steelers organization because he felt he could make a real difference for Black athletes. Not everyone appreciated the idea of hiring a newspaperman to scout college players, but Bill proved himself fully worthy to be the first African American appointed to a front office position. As the years of discovering overlooked players who (for the most part) attended historically Black colleges, (such as L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Joe Greene, Dwight White, Glen Edwards, Ernie Holmes, John Stallworth, and Donnie Shell), the Steelers continued to have winning seasons, and Bill’s participation was never questioned again. In fact, although he officially retired from the Steelers organization in 1987, he continued to be a part of the recruitment team for over 46 years, until his death.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Man filming Regis Bobonis, Mal Goode, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Joe Brown, and Bill Nunn Jr., during presentation of Pittsburgh Courier's Humanitarian award to Brown on Forbes Field, with Cincinnati Reds baseball player in background, April 1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14071 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Man filming Regis Bobonis, Mal Goode, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Joe Brown, and Bill Nunn Jr., during presentation of Pittsburgh Courier’s Humanitarian award to Brown on Forbes Field, with Cincinnati Reds baseball player in background, April 1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14071 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Nunn never played nor coached football, but still he was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and was a 2010 inaugural member of the Black College Hall of Fame. He also was the recipient of six Super Bowl rings, because of his distinction as being one of the longest tenured employees of the Steelers. His name also lies in the West Virginia State University Sports Hall of Fame.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., and bride, wearing gown with lace overlay on bodice and sleeves, in church with large pipe organ, and carved altar in background, c. 1940-1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.23973 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., and bride, wearing gown with lace overlay on bodice and sleeves, in church with large pipe organ, and carved altar in background, c. 1940–1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.23973 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Mr. Nunn is survived by his lovely wife, Frances (whom he’d known since childhood), his daughter Lynell Nunn (an attorney), his son Bill Nunn III (a film/television/theatre actor), three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

I listened to our 2011 interview as I wrote this obituary. It made me wish I had spent even more time chatting with them about their accomplishments in helping other African Americans achieve new heights. Nunn also discussed working with Teenie Harris as both a colleague and his boss. He said Teenie, being older than Bill, taught him a lot about how to approach people favorably. However, when he became Teenie’s boss at the Courier, he asked Teenie to take more than “one shot,” just in case the first one didn’t turn out. Teenie refuted that would never happen, so that was a bit of a disagreement between them, and Teenie never missed the shot (to his knowledge, of course). The Nunns giggled almost like teenagers as they scanned the many photos Teenie had taken of them through the decades— including their wedding portraits. It was a real treat for me to share Teenie’s images of them, which they had never seen before, and to witness the joy it brought them. I’ll always remember fondly how they were linked with their arms around each other and waived to me as I drove away from their house. One of the last things Mr. Nunn said to me was that he “just wanted to make a difference in the lives of African Americans.” He did. They both did, and I left with a serene sense of pride and appreciation for the road they helped pave.

Barns of Western Pennsylvania, Revisited


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Isenberg Barn, Alexandria, Pennsylvania, 2005

As a professional photographer, my experience with architecture is not so much the history or study of as it is one of practical knowledge. You need to learn the hallmarks of the different genres to speak with some intelligence to various clients. Before working as an architectural photographer for Carnegie Museum of Art in 2004, I really only knew of Frank Lloyd Wright and a handful of other names, but of course still could pick out visually interesting buildings and enjoy the differences between eras.

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Come see Architecture + Photography at the Heinz Architectural Center, closing May 26!
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In spring 2005 I was asked to take photographs for an exhibition titled Barns of Western Pennsylvania: Vernacular to Spectacular. It would be the first time the museum would contract a photographer to do an entire exhibition for them in this manner. I was excited, as most photographers would be—barns are cool subjects to photograph. I admit that I knew almost nothing of the various genres of barn architecture! I was soon immersed in the various types of structures that dotted the landscape in the area. I grew up in the area, so I was surprised to find out that there were unique building styles that defined western Pennsylvania. No longer was a barn just a barn. I had been in a few of course, but I did not grow up on a farm, so there was a steep learning curve.

Boscy Barn

Boscy Barn

The approach was to be about the style and construction, not so much about use or who and what inhabited them. The list that curator Lu Donnelly had put together was pretty extensive, covering from the western edge of PA to near State College, and from Erie to just north of the Maryland border. I started with the two closest to me, both very much Pennsylvania type barns. I tried to contact the owners via phone but did not get an answer nor did they have answering machines. So I just took a chance and drove over.

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Brunch at Alter Barn

At first, the Alter Barn did not look like much. I did realize its structure now as a forebay barn, a multilevel designed to accommodate the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I went to the farm house and rang the bell. I was ushered into the kitchen to meet with the owner. He was not working the farm himself anymore due to age and ailment. He began to tell me the history of the farm and who was using the barn for a few horses and cows. I knew I needed to go and photograph but was getting a living history lesson of the farm and its use. He said go ahead and do what I needed to, just watch your step—for the obvious reason as well as some of the floorboards in the barn may not be as secure as possible. I assured him I’d be careful and went about my business.

I was first greeted by the smith who was shoeing one of the horses being kept there. I had never seen it done, so my education was beginning in earnest. I walked around the barn and did a lot of exterior photos. Again, it did not look like it was in stellar condition. I then pushed one of the large doors open. Light and sound changed instantly. Everything became softer. Sound was muffled yet you could hear a creak from the other side of the barn as if the offended plank was right beside you. The smell was of earth, the wood, the hay, all had a quieting effect. The light was warm and diffuse, streaming in between the siding, breaking up then reconfiguring itself to illuminate everything in a unique way. I started climbing around the hay, looking at all the aged farm implements at rest but still looking like they had a job to do. One of the first photos that I did inside that day continues to be one of my all time favorites (below).

Alter Barn Hayloft

Alter Barn Hayloft

As I worked through the afternoon and kept finding wonderful shot after wonderful shot I realized that this was a different kind of architecture. It was alive, it was active. I began to realize that it had a life and a story all of its own. It was intertwined with its owner like no other building I had ever been in. It was open to the elements yet was shelter.

I also realized that showing all of this was actually my job! I went down to the lower levels that house the animals but none were to be found. They were outside grazing and doing what cows and horses do. As I started shooting all of this, the inhabitants did begin to come up to the building. They did not seem to mind me too much, but I did get a few looks from the cows that made me wonder a bit.

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Take a picture, why don’t ya?

I became intrigued with their lives within this structure. I realized how much a barn is designed to facilitate man and beast together in their daily activities.  Not many other places are designed with that in mind.

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Neumeyer Barn

The second farm that I approached (Neumeyer) has what is called a stone end Sweitzer barn. It too housed a few interesting characters. I walked to the the farm house again. This time I was greeted by three dogs on respective chain runs that made plenty of noise, but I could walk past them to the house. The farmer came to the door and I introduced myself and what my purpose was. He was aware that I was coming but not when. He was very guarded and was not at all trusting of me. He said that I could do all I wanted outside but to not go into the barn. He mentioned injury and insurance as the reason and was not going to sign any release forms. Didn’t like people that needed a piece of paper to have an agreement. I agreed not to trespass and added that I believed his dogs would keep an eye out for me. His response was priceless.

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Neumeyer Milk Stall

“Don’t worry about the dogs. Watch out for the Goat! He’s a sneaky one.” He walked with me and began to explain how his goat liked to come up to people all innocent like, then begin to chew their clothes, and when you tried to get away it would head butt them. As I approached the barn the goat showed his face out of the side door and began to walk up to us. He seemed rather comical as we approached. Only one eye seemed to focus on you. The other pointed in another direction entirely. The farmer reiterated “Don’t let him fool you.” I told him that he was the first person I ever met with a “Watch Goat.” He seemed to like that comment and began to tell me about the farm. The more we talked and the more questions I asked the more he began to show me around. To this day I feel that because I was wearing a hat and not a suit, something he commented on, he felt he could at least trust me a little bit. I wore a hat to every farm after that.

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“Don’t worry about the dogs. Watch out for the goat! He’s a sneaky one.”

He eventually gave me a tour of the entire barn, both inside and out. I was shown how an old fashioned dairy farm works. Told how he was the third generation to use the barn but would be the last. He didn’t want his daughters working as hard as he had. I heard stories from him growing up here and how he had swung from ropes and beams off of the rafters as a teenager. The barn had been added to over the years to facilitate growth, new types of animals, and whatever farming techniques are being used at the time.

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Neumeyer Hayloft

On the outside, the barns have an “overworked” look I like to call it. They have stood for a long time with minimal repair. Inside, they take on a whole world unto themselves. sparse light, yet still a bright atmosphere. Hard work is done here no doubt about it, yet almost serene in feeling. All manner of creatures are in there, but just living, not competing.

To me, the architecture and design was more about the heart of the farm than about the actual structure. This is architecture with a life and a life story. Some soaring and grand. Some with a “How did this stay up so long?” look to it. All with a character not found in any high rise. Every corner used—nothing wasted.

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.

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

 

 

 

Teenie Harris’s Pastime


Charles "Teenie" Harris, Charles "Teenie" Harris, wearing riding attire, seated on horse and patting the horse's neck, possibly in Schenley Park, with Adirondack chair in background, c. 1935-1940, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.8715 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Charles “Teenie” Harris, wearing riding attire, seated on horse and patting the horse’s neck, possibly in Schenley Park, with Adirondack chair in background, c. 1935-1940, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.8715 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

When we talk to people who knew Teenie Harris personally we hear the same thing over and over again: Teenie was everywhere, always taking pictures. We asked his family if he ever slept since the other part of taking pictures required long hours in the darkroom. They said he managed to keep on going with his trademark positive energy despite little sleep at times. Then we wondered, what about his down time, did he ever put down the camera?  His son Lionel Harris spoke of his favorite pastime without a camera:

“He loved that track – golly! He took me…‘Come on, let’s go, we’re going down to Wheeling.’ This one day I said, okay dad. On the way down I said, everything you bet, I want to bet. It was raining cats and dogs out – golly! So I pulled up so he’d go up the steps and I said, I’ll be right in as soon as it stops raining. It rained and it rained and it rained, alright, it finally stopped and I get out and I’m on my way up the steps and he’s coming down. ‘Come on, let’s go!’ I said, what? I said come on, I said it’s only the third race. He said, ‘yeah I know, I’m ready to go.’ I said wait a minute. ‘Well I hit the daily double, I hit the first race, and the second race – time to go.’ He showed me this wad – I said, oh no, you didn’t bet for me? He says, ‘aw here,’ gives me a hundred [laughs]. He was too much, he was too much… He loved the thoroughbreds… thoroughbred racing was it – he loved that. Waterford Park, Wheeling Downs – that was his thing – that was his pastime I guess you could say.”

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Woman, possibly Ida May Mauney, on horseback patting horse's neck, seen from the ground, c. 1930-1970, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.5479 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Woman, possibly Ida May Mauney, on horseback patting horse’s neck, seen from the ground, c. 1930-1970, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.5479 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

We have not found any images of actual horse races in the Teenie Harris archive yet; instead he captured personal images with horses and documented military and equestrian events for the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper:

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Two men seated on horses, with audience in background, at track, c. 1938-1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14762 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Two men seated on horses, with audience in background, at track, c. 1938-1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14762 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of Ninth Cavalry on horseback lined up in park, July 1942, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6810 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of Ninth Cavalry on horseback lined up in park, July 1942, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6810 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

And in one of his longer photo series of over two dozen images, he thoroughly documented a horse show that was a benefit for Hill City (a social services and youth leadership agency) that took place in Hunt Armory in Shadyside in November 1945:

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group of men standing in Hunt Armory preparing for horse show benefit for Hill City, January 1945, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.39069 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group of men standing in Hunt Armory preparing for horse show benefit for Hill City, January 1945, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.39069 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, William Bell wearing suit and hat, leading horse "Little Beau" with polka dot bridle, posed in Hunt Armory during horse show, January 1945, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.12064 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, William Bell wearing suit and hat, leading horse “Little Beau” with polka dot bridle, posed in Hunt Armory during horse show, January 1945, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.12064 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Billie Spellman holding reigns of spotted horse with saddle and bridle, seated on straw in Hunt Armory during horse show, January 1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.8716 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Billie Spellman holding reigns of spotted horse with saddle and bridle, seated on straw in Hunt Armory during horse show, January 1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.8716 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Portrait of man wearing hat and patterned necktie, posed holding reins of horse pulling cart, in Hunt Armory during horse show, with police officers and American flag in background, January 1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.39074 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Portrait of man wearing hat and patterned necktie, posed holding reins of horse pulling cart, in Hunt Armory during horse show, with police officers and American flag in background, January 1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.39074 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Four men, and woman wearing dark suit, necktie, and hat, holding reins of horse and "Champion" ribbon, posed in Hunt Armory during horse show, January 1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.39055 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Four men, and woman wearing dark suit, necktie, and hat, holding reins of horse and “Champion” ribbon, posed in Hunt Armory during horse show, January 1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.39055 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive