Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Pictures Worth Thousands of Words
Title: One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles "Teenie" Harris
By: Stanley Crouch
Stanley Crouch gets the credit as “author”, both in our library catalog and on the book itself. But all Crouch wrote is an introductory chapter, which I skimmed but found dense. In actuality, the book is a collection of photographs by a Pittsburgh photographer, Charles Harris. Crouch expends the proverbial thousand words trying to explain these remarkable photographs which speak for themselves.
The primary subjects are African-Americans living in Pittsburgh during the period Harris worked there, from the 1930s through the 1960s. I confess: my mind registers “photographs of African-Americans” and involuntary runs through the stereotypes that one expects (negative, positive, whatever). Then there is an unsettled feeling… and a small awakening… there are no stereotypes here. Who are these people? Who is this wonderful photographer, who loved his city and his neighbors and had the heart, strength, and talent to record their images so eloquently?
The city and people recorded here: is this really our same country, not so many years ago? From how many thousands of pages of dry history would one learn (or, more likely, forget) what is written on these faces? Does History with a capital H really matter, and is progress our most important product? Those were bad times, they say, and we are lucky to be here, not there, to be us, not them – but then why do they look so alive, so engaged, even happy, while we sit staring blankly at screens?
Photography in black and white: a dead craft you won’t be learning in school. Yet what elegance and power it possesses.
I found this book over in the far corner of the Oversize section of the Central library. There you will find many shelves of remarkable photo collections in book form, assembled by the library over the years. Venture back there in person, browse, and check some out.
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