Monday, March 5, 2012
Carnegie's Teenie Harris Exhibit
I recently visited the Carnegie Museum of Art to view the popular exhibit, "Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story" and was very enlightened. Charles "Teenie" Harris (1908-1998) was a highly acclaimed African American photographer for the black newspaper the Pittsburgh Courier from the mid-1930s through the mid-1970s. Mr. Harris captured images of politicians, celebrities, and daily life in Pittsburgh's Hill District neighborhood. Nearly 1,000 of his estimated collection of 80,000 photographs are on display in the museum and are projected on the walls and organized into seven different categories (each 24 minutes in length): "Crossroads," "Gatherings," "Urban Landscapes," "Style," "At Home," "The Rise and Fall of the Crawford Grill" and "Words and Signs." In the adjoining gallery, all 987 black and white photographs are displayed on the walls organized by year with the option of a headset to hear descriptions of selected photos. Computers are also set up to click through all the images with small narratives. The final gallery of the exhibition is dedicated to an in-depth evaluation of Harris as an artist.
Since I had the time I sat through the projection display of Mr. Harris' work. I found "Crossroads," "Urban Landscapes," and "The Rise and Fall of the Crawford Grill" most interesting. Crossroads featured some of America's most influential figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, MLB and Negro League stars, and famous jazz musicians that visited the city. Tennie's photographs were mostly taken in the Hill District, but sections of Oakland, the East End, and Homestead are some of the towns also on display. This exhibit is not only a history of African American life, but also a history of Pittsburgh and the transformation from thriving neighborhoods to eventual urban blight. It was fascinating to see a bustling Hill District with businesses like the historic jazz club, the Crawford Grill, in its heyday. The controversial construction of the Civic Arena also played a role in the changing landscape of the Lower Hill.
I highly recommend "Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story," but act fast as the exhibit ends on April 7, 2012. Anyone interested in history like me will not be disappointed.