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One Shot Harris: the Photographs of Charles "Teenie" Harris.

by Stanley Crouch Harry N. Abrams, Inc., October 2002, $35.00, ISBN 0-810-93272-5

Ten years after the Pittsburgh Courier rolled off the presses in 1910, it was among the most preeminent newspapers to cover black urban life. The Courier was one of the few black-owned newspapers that reported the "serious" issues without skipping a beat. During its peak years, in the 1930s and '40s, the weekly gained nationwide popularity, especially as more blacks migrated to the North, looking for a more prosperous life.

Pittsburgh native Charles Harris joined the Courier in 1933, and for the next 40 years he attended political events, traveled down familiar streets and visited jazz clubs, applying his instincts and self-taught skill to produce hundreds of photographs that depicted the unique, vitality of the African-American community. Though Harris was not as well-known as other photographers of the time, the images he took reflected the upbeat, productive moral fiber he himself embodied. And for years, many of his images lay untouched and unseen. But all of that is about to change.

A new book, One Shot Harris, captures a trove of Harris' work, which was rescued from the hands of an unscrupulous dealer in the late 1980s. The photographs and negatives were then given to his family, housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and just recently compiled by an editorial panel that was organized to breathe new interest in the photographer's work.

The title for the collection comes from Charles A. Harris' reputation for being able to "snap the picture and leave," requiring just one take to capture the essence of his subject. Thus nicknamed "One Shot," Harris amassed an archive of some 80,000 pictures, so the book--which includes 135 photographs--represents just a portion of his vast collection.

One Shot Harris is pure soul. Though Harris photographed people living in poverty, most of his photos break away from the all-too-familiar images that oftentimes represent blacks during hard times. Instead, Harris focused on local folk--proud at work and at home--along with numerous celebrities to convey cultural pride. He took particular pleasure in highlighting The Hill District, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where many African Americans flocked seeking employment and entertainment.

"What I'd like for readers to take away from this book," says writer Stanley Crouch, "is that Harris shows that these black communities, regardless of all stereotypes, were as civilized as any community in the entire western world."

Crouch sets the reverential tone for the book right from the start. His opening essay recalls, in a rather matter-of-fact tone, the role Pittsburgh and its inhabitants have played throughout American history. Crouch chronicles the conditions of the city as far back as 1754. It is fitting, too, that NYU Professor Deborah Willis applauds the importance of Harris' work as it relates to our cultural history, as well as how it contributes to the art of photography.

While many of Harris' photographs were clearly taken for some editorial purpose, or news events, others, perhaps, were taken for some different reason. Nevertheless, his aim was for viewers to witness a society where inner strength is worth celebrating and remembering.
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Author:Reynolds, Clarence V.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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