Charles "Teenie" Harris
CHARLES ‘TEENIE’ HARRIS
Charles "Teenie" Harris, the dapper photographer whose thousands of images captured celebrities and chronicled decades of black life in Pittsburgh, died June 12, 1998 at the house where he had lived for most of his life. He was 89, two weeks shy of his 90th birthday. Born in Pittsburg’s Hill District in 1908, Harris began his photography career in the early 1930s.
He opened a photography studio on Centre Avenue with $350 he borrowed from his brother Woogie, a well-known numbers runner in The Hill.
In 1936, he joined the staff of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the few black-owned weekly newspapers at that time to have a national circulation, and quickly built an unprecedented rapport with Pittsburgh's African-American community.
Harris worked for the Pittsburgh Courier from 1936 to 1975, including the era when it was the nation's biggest black newspaper.
Harris was without rival in his access to black homes. He photographed celebrities-Lena Horne, Martin Luther King Jr., Satchel Paige, Muhammad Ali-but was also noted for his poignant pictures featuring black cab drivers, musicians, meter maids, policemen and thousands of others. One famous photo shows preschoolers reenacting a wedding.
"He was the first person to see black people with dignity, more than anyone else did," said Greg Lanier, a black freelance photographer from Pittsburgh.
"He portrayed black people in a warm and caring light. There's a reason that he had all the access that he did. People trusted him, and they knew they would be portrayed in a good light and not exploited."
Former Pittsburgh Mayor David Lawrence gave him the nickname "One Shot" for the few frames he took.
"The mayor would always defer to him, and wait for him to take his shot."
Harris worked around the clock, said Frank Bolden, the Courier's one-time city editor.
When Harris was assigned to cover a baseball game, he would come back not only with shots of the sports figures, but also with pictures of people in the stands, on the field or in clubs after the game.
"He had a better instinct for people than some of my reporters," Bolden said in the film. "He always had a news story in that camera."