Revisiting the Teenie Harris Retrospective

In 2011, we opened Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, a groundbreaking retrospective of the work of iconic photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908–1998). This exhibition, the largest featuring Harris’s work to date, featured nearly 1000 images.

A gallery with bright blue walls and black and white photos hung in a line
Installation view of Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, 2011, Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Tom Little

CMOA is the sole steward of over 70,000 negatives belonging to Harris, and after acquiring Harris’s work in the early 2000s, we spent the next ten years researching, cataloging, and working with community members to identify and better understand each photograph. This exhibition rose out of that community collaboration and was the first major presentation of Teenie Harris at the museum.

An installation of many small black and white photos hung in a long grid that stretches across a gallery wall
Installation view of Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, 2011, Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Tom Little

Charlene Foggie-Barnett, CMOA’s Teenie Harris Archive Specialist, remembers Teenie Harris, Photographer fondly: “This exhibition was significant to the art world, history buffs, and of course the Harris family. But to people like me, whose lives were literally documented through Teenie’s lens, the opening of this exhibition was a particularly special and personal moment. Standing in the gallery, I remembered Teenie squinting his eye just before he took the shot, followed by the flash of his large speed graphic camera. For me, the preparation for the retrospective not only revealed personal memories, but also changed my career path.”

Teenie Harris, Photographer was also the inspiration for a series of community programs, including youth workshops, performances of scenes from August Wilson plays, a symposium about photography and the urban experience, and many others.