Charles "Teenie" Harris: Pittsburgh's Great Photographer

Written by

A few weeks ago Dick LaPalm, who was Nat Cole’s manager and still active in the jazz community, sent me a bunch of photos by a photographer I hadn’t heard of:  Teenie Harris.  There were photos of Duke Ellington, Art Blakey, and Sarah Vaughan that I’d never seen.

I went online to find out more about Teenie.  I found that there is a wonderful new book out, cataloguing a show that runs through April 2012 at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.  The exhibition and book (University of Pittsburgh Press) shows pictures he took of  stars like Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, and Sarah Vaughan that I likewise have never seen, even though I have many books by great jazz photographers like William Claxton and Herman Leonard.   The book that accompanies the museum show is called Teenie Harris Photographer:  Image, Memory, History.  The book was put together by Cheryl Finley, Laurence Glasco, and Joe W. Trotter, with an introduction by Deborah Willis.

Teenie Harris lived and photographed in Pittsburgh his whole life;  many of his photos were taken during the heyday of the steel mills before they were shut down.  He took timeless photos of not only jazz musicians who were based or visited there, but also sports icons such as Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali and Jackie Robinson.  There are also pictures of Vice-President Nixon and John F. Kennedy.  In the larger frame, he captured the joys and sorrows of African American community in Pittsburgh from the 1940s to the 1970s like few have.  Many of his images are from his work as a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier.

One of my favorite shots is an image of eleven year-old Ahmad Jamal, one of my favorite pianists ever.  He is perched on a trumpet case so as to reach the keyboard!  (photo credit:  Heinz Family Fund, Carnegie Museum of Art, and University of Pittsburgh Press.