About the Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris (1908–1998) photographed the events and daily life of African Americans for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation's most influential black newspapers. One of the paper's principal photographers from the 1930s to 1970s, Harris documented nearly all of the notable events in the city at that time, as well as a wide range of activities in daily life, including Little League games, weddings, church groups, nightlife, and beauty contests.

In 2001, Carnegie Museum of Art purchased the Harris archive of nearly 80,000 photographic negatives, few of which are titled and dated. The archive, a richly detailed record of public personalities and events, and the lives of average people, is considered one of the most important documentations of 20th-century African American life. 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. So far, 2,000 images have been positively identified with help from the community.

Cataloging Images Julia Morrison cataloging negatives in the Teenie Harris Archive offices, 2009  

The Teenie Harris Archive consists primarily of photographic negatives. Of the approximately 80,000 negatives, 59,000 are 4 x 5–inch black-and-white negatives thought to date from about 1937 to 1975; 14,350 are black-and-white negatives in medium formats probably shot between about 1965 and the 1980s; 454 are nitrate negatives in varying formats that seem to date from the late 1910s to early 1940s. The archive also contains an undetermined number of 35mm black-and-white and color negatives dating from the late 1960s to about 1998, yet to be cataloged. In addition, about 5,000 feet of 16mm motion picture film includes original Harris footage spliced with commercial newsreel and cartoon footage, most from the 1940s. The museum owns 560 lifetime gelatin silver prints of Harris images, including many printed or hand colored by the artist; 3,000 prints acquired in 1997 are preserved in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Oliver Room.

The archive's holding of negatives contains the majority of Harris's work but may not be complete. Certain negatives of documented Harris images are missing. A small portion of the archive may be the work of other photographers for the Pittsburgh Courier. Most images in the archive are securely ascribed to Harris; where doubt exists, the catalog record reads "attributed to Charles 'Teenie' Harris" if the work is likely to be his; or "American, 20th century" if the photographer's identity is unknown. Copy negatives after another photographer's work are ascribed to Harris "after another photographer," who is named if known.

Teenie Son Teenie Harris's son, Charles A. "Little Teenie" Harris, examines one of his father's negatives, 2009 

Carnegie Museum of Art purchased the negatives and all rights from the estate of the artist in 2001. The museum's policy for management of the archive was shaped by an advisory committee of Harris family members, academic specialists, and Pittsburgh community leaders who insisted on the African American community's ownership of the history represented in Harris images. Consequently, the archive catalog is based on first-person accounts by Harris's subjects and contemporaries, or contemporaneous publications such as Flash Newspicture Magazine and the Pittsburgh Courier, and it is updated regularly as new information becomes available. By these means, the records of 20,000 images (25 percent of the archive) include content contributed by the public, Flash, or the Courier. As of March 2011, 73,800 negatives had been cataloged, 57,760 had been scanned and all records made available through Carnegie Museum of Art's online collection search thanks to National Endowment of the Humanities Preservation and Access grants awarded in 2005 and 2007. In 2007, the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized the archive as a "We the People" project. As funds become available, the museum will complete the cataloging and scanning of the remaining negatives, and continue to collect data from the public regarding the content, dating, and significance of Harris's photographs.

Titles of Harris photographs are descriptive and based on the content of the image. Additional information such as personal names, locations, dates, and events have been supplied by community informants or contemporaneous published sources such as the Pittsburgh Courier. As research continues, this data is subject to change.

 

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