More than ten years of work has already gone into archiving the work of Pittsburgh photographer Teenie Harris, but more needs to be done. To that end, the Carnegie Museum of Art has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which will eventually fund a full-time archivist specifically for the Teenie Harris collection.
“We still have about 15,000 black and white negatives to scan to make the digital images and release on the website, and once those images are available we need to research them,” said Currator Louise Lippincott, “we also have about 10 years’ worth of color negatives taken in the last 15 years of his [Harris’s] life and we also have 5,000 feet of 16mm film that Teenie shot and would show in the 1940s.”
Charles “Teenie” Harris photographed the African American community for the Pittsburgh Courier from about 1936 to 1975, he died in 1998. Lippincott said it’s important to preserve his work, as it is the most complete archive of that moment in African American history.
“It’s his complete life’s work and he was working in a place that was very significant in terms of both the national story and the African American story,” she said, “and he presented from a point of view that was unique in that he was inside the community and he was presenting it from the inside point of view, he was not someone from elsewhere who was coming in to document people he didn’t know.”
Carnegie Museum of Art had a display of Harris’s photography, which Lippincott said helped catapult him to worldwide fame. Still, a majority of his work remains unseen.
“That was less than 1,000 images out of an archive of 80,000 and there is still much more to be learned about the remaining 79,000 images.”
In late winter 2013, Carnegie Museum of Art will inaugurate a new series of rotating displays of Harris’s work, which will not only get more images into public view, but also allow the public to help contribute information about photographs. The museum is also working to digitize all of Harris’s photographs and put them on their website with an updated, more powerful search capability.
The National Endowment of the Humanities funding is in the form of a $300,000 three to one challenge grant. The museum has five years to match it by raising $900,000. Fundraising efforts are now underway; there is no timeline for hiring the permanent full-time archivist.