Teenie Harris Photographs: Elections

August 13, 2016December 5, 2016

Teenie Harris Photographs: Elections  

Teenie Harris Photographs: Elections offers an insider’s view of African American political life in Pittsburgh from the 1940s to the early 1970s, a period when once-disenfranchised minority voters established themselves as a growing force in American politics. From city council races to congressional campaigns and presidential elections, Charles “Teenie” Harris was there with his camera, an eyewitness to the historic changes unfolding around him. 

Harris’s photographs of the democratic process defined much of his 40-year career as a photojournalist at the Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper renowned for its reporting on local politics, national events, and powerful people in the city. As the journalistic voice of the community, the Courier often encouraged its readers to join political campaigns and to vote on issues that impacted their lives. 

The images in this exhibition offer an unparalleled window into the political world that Harris chronicled. Through his lens we see K. Leroy Irvis, the first African American to serve as speaker of the house in any state legislature, as he casts his vote at a polling precinct in the Fifth Ward in 1962, and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm meeting with supporters from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority a decade later. We also see Republican presidential hopeful Richard Nixon campaigning in the Hill District, and President John F. Kennedy giving a speech in Monessen, Pennsylvania. 

For perspective in this election year, we invited three politically involved guest curators to select images for the exhibition: R. Daniel Lavelle, city councilman; Michael Keaton, actor and activist; and Harold Hayes, television news journalist. Their choices reflect the politics of today and contrast them with the political landscape that Harris documented. 

Charlene Foggie-Barnett, Teenie Harris Archive Specialist, Carnegie Museum of Art 

Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908–1998) photographed Pittsburgh’s African American community from ca. 1935 to ca. 1975. His archive of nearly 80,000 images is one of the most detailed and intimate records of the black urban experience known today. Purchased by Carnegie Museum of Art in 2001, the Teenie Harris Archive was established to preserve Harris’s important photographic work for future generations. For more information, visit teenie.cmoa.org. You can also read essays inspired by the social, cultural, and political content of Harris’s photographs at blog.cmoa.org.