Unknown photographer, Portrait of Charles "Teenie" Harris, c. 1940-1945. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, gift of the estate of Charles "Teenie" Harris (not accessioned).

The Teenie Harris Retrospective

November 13–14, 2009 

For this curator roundtable, conveners Louise Lippincott and Natasha Becker, joined together Carnegie Museum of Art staff, Pittsburgh educators, and digital experts, all working together on this major exhibition, to discuss the work, and the curatorial challenges posed by, Pittsburgh’s great African-American photographer. The Carnegie Museum of Art, which hosted the exhibition, is the caretaker of the Teenie Harris Archive. This event was generously sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s grant to the Clark.

Participants included:
Lisa Corrin, Williams College Museum of Art; Larry Glasco, University of Pittsburgh; Louise Lippincott, Carnegie Museum of Art; Johnson Martin, artist; Dave Nash, Stowe Nash Associates; Bradley McCallum, artist; Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post Gazette; Ralph Proctor, Community College of Allegheny County; Will Real, Carnegie Museum of Art; Jacquelyn D. Serwer, Smithsonian Institution; Kerin Shellenbarger, Carnegie Museum of Art; Cecile Shellman, Pittsburgh Public Schools; Stephen Streibig, Iontank; Jacqueline Tarry, artist; Joe Trotter, Carnegie Mellon University; Deborah Willis, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU

In order of discussion

Introduction to the Exhibition
Louise Lippincott, Laurence Glasco, and Joe Trotter

This roundtable served as the first serious evaluation outside the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMA) of the exhibition’s visual, artistic, and intellectual content. The museum’s stake is high, given its eight years invested in preserving, cataloging, and digitizing the archive of approximately 80,000 photographic negatives. In 2011-2012 this project launched a yearlong investigation of the topic of race as collaboration between the Museum of Art and its sister Carnegie organizations, the Museum of Natural History, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Carnegie Science Center.

Photography and Black Life in America
Moderator: Deborah Willis

CMA believes that this retrospective exhibition has the potential to change our understanding of black life during segregation, and 20th-century urban history, while introducing a major photographer to a national public. Does the visual, artistic, and intellectual content of the exhibition support this position? To what extent is the story local, to what extent national?

Historical and Cultural Debates
Moderator: Laurence Glasco

In defense of his call for an all-Black theatre in the 1990s, playwright August Wilson describes the segregated Pittsburgh of his youth as an example of how separateness can foster community, creativity, and a self-sustaining culture. Teenie Harris’ photographs depict that Pittsburgh. In this contested sphere, the Carnegie Museum of Art, a largely white organization, has worked successfully with the local African American community by silently respecting the people’s desire to retain control of the “interpretation” of Harris’ images, which the community rightfully claims as part of its history. Yet the advisory committee is expressing the museum’s obligation to speak up with information and assistance for the exhibition’s potential and varied audiences. So: how much, and what kind?

Reviewing the History of the Civil Rights Movement
Moderator: Natasha Becker  

The Obama election is changing historical perspectives on the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, and the Obama administration has proven adept at using visual imagery to create a new public image of and for African Americans. How should/could our exhibition take changing attitudes about the past and the future into account?

Teenie Harris for Future Generations
Moderator: Cecile Shellman
Presenters: Johnson Martin and Jara Dorsey

As Teenie Harris’ generation passes, the future of his archive depends on its continuing relevance for younger generations. Pittsburgh educators believe his images have great potential as an educational and inspirational resource for children and schools. Our educators are considering an interpretive strategy for exhibition programs and outreach built around the ideas of Identity, Community, and Change. Their method extends the archive’s “community cataloging” concept to encompass today’s visual world, featuring documentation as a way of forming personal and/or group identity.

Presentation, Programs, and Interpretive Strategies
Moderator: Jacqueline Serwer

How do we use gallery installations, publications, public programs, and the web to disseminate the exhibition content and themes to the widest possible audience? We are particularly interested in how to make historical images and material relevant to younger audiences.

Teenie Harris and the Web
Moderator: Mark Ledbury 
Presenter: Nick Pozek

The Teenie Harris Archive is a digital database currently holding over 60,000 catalogue records and 50,000 + images. Its modest interactive component was originally intended to collect catalog data (subject matter, date) from online users and share it with the public. The retrospective exhibition and the growth of the World Wide Web vastly enlarge the potential scope of the archive website as a permanent asset for the museum and the public. How can the museum develop the archive website to invite participation by a global audience, elicit commitment from website users, and become a permanent digital resource for all?

* If you are interested in learning more about the Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art (October 29, 2011, through April 7, 2012), please visit:

The Teenie Harris Archive

The Wall Street Journal