Teenie Harris Photographs: Focus on Hair

February 4–September 13, 2013


Hair, like skin tone, directly points out the amalgam that is African American culture. We had to "work with" what we had; even though the same haircut, process, and style may be attempted from one person to another, a great variety of texture, length, color, and style is often the outcome….Thus, as with all things pertaining to African Americans, in a singular culture we have historically possessed incredible variety, of which we should be quite proud.   

—From the curators’ statement, Charlene Foggie Barnett & Dr. Ralph Proctor 

In the summer of 2011, museum staff collected dozens of oral histories from individuals in Pittsburgh’s African American community who remembered Teenie Harris. One interview included the following suggestion:

…Some of those photographs he did, ones especially at his studio [that] were not historically significant in that they were not historical events, but some of the people were significant, some of the outfits were significant, some of the hairstyles were a chronology of what women wore in those days, you know? And the story behind grooming, oh! Someone needs to write that. What we went through to be acceptable, what we went through.  

In December 2012, the museum invited the speakers at that interview, Charlene Foggie Barnett and Dr. Ralph Proctor, to work with research archivist Kerin Shellenbarger on the “story behind grooming.” Always immaculate, stylish, and perceptive himself, Harris photographed beauty salons, fashion shows, celebrities, and society events throughout his career. Teenie Harris Photographs: Focus on Hair combines 20 of Harris’s best depictions of hair with reflections on black hair and beauty from the exhibition’s three organizers and from curator of fine arts Lulu Lippincott. The exhibition also includes excerpts from recorded comments by an expert on hair, centenarian Lillian Allen.