Teenie Harris was a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier and he also had his own photography studio. Additionally he often captured what was going on around him because he always had his camera on hand.
Use examples to illustrate each of these various contexts for Teenie Harris’s work—newspaper photos, studio shots, and candids. You could also include examples from Picturing the City, and possibly students’ personal photographs.
Compare photographs taken for these different purposes.
Have students had their portrait taken?
Do they take photographs for the school newspaper or maybe were featured there?
Do they ever take photographs of their friends around school or hanging out? What are those experiences like?
How do these different contexts for photographs change how we understand them? How is a photograph different in a newspaper versus the museum wall? Or in a frame in someone’s home? How do our personal points of view change how we understand these photographs?
Compare a selection of Teenie Harris’s photographs of celebrities with some taken by the paparazzi (you could find some appropriate examples in magazines or on the internet). What are some contrasts you can make between the photographs themselves and how the photographers captured their subjects? What are the legal issues connected to photography?
Teenie Harris documented over 40 years of his personal experiences and interactions with others through his photographs. You can make a small-scale version of his body of work and recognize the influence of one person over time. The photographers in Picturing the City documented the changes and people, places, and events around downtown Pittsburgh over three recent years (from 2007–2010).
Discuss what can be concluded from examining many photographs, as opposed to just one or two.
How can we document our own lives, and as artists, make these everyday occurrences interesting? What does it tell us about ourselves, our neighborhoods? The world?
How can studying the past and observing the present help us be more thoughtful about possibilities for the future?
Challenge your students to be observant of the people, places, and events around you for a short period of time (maybe a few days or a week). Different prompts could be used each week to narrow or adjust the focus for your students.
Ask your students to collect things that they find, including pictures, objects, and ideas. Have them make note of new things that they become aware of because of their observations. Ask them to share with others. What do they learn about each other through their collected observations, notes, objects, etc.?
The class could start a blog about these everyday events. As a collection, these reflections and findings become a body of work, like Teenie Harris’s body of work.
Category: History and the Everyday
, Formal elements
, Observation & interpretation
Students can create imaginative and historically based narratives, inspired by Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs. A combination of close observation and research on the people, places, events, and time period can produce relevant investigations.
- Select a photograph by Teenie Harris or a Picturing the City artist that interests them.
- Make a list of observations (who, what, where, etc.) and jot down any questions they have about the people, places, or events.
- Do research connected with the people, places, events, and time period.
- Create dialogue between characters and/or imagine a larger storyline beyond the photograph.
- Share how stories reflect both research and imagination.
The follow-up conversation could address questions like: What impact does the photograph have on me? What does it say about its time and the impact on the people who lived during those times?
Photographs of people can make us curious about their lives, accomplishments, and experiences. How can we use our observation skills to prompt personally relevant investigations of these photographs? How did the artist capture something important? Just because it is a photograph, does that make it important?
Choose a variety of Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs depicting people.
Students should observe them carefully and take note of what more they might like to know about them. Ask them to make a list of questions they would ask the people in the photographs if they could. Such as: What are you doing? Where are you and why did you go there? What did you do next?
Share their questions and reasons with classmates in small groups. Have your students ask each other the same questions about the photographs. What are the responses from classmates about the photographs?
If possible, ask students to research something further about the photographs, such as the people, location, events, or the time period. Can they find answers to any of their questions?
Discuss what happens if you can’t find anything specific about the people, places, or events. What are possible factors for this? How can we use observations to create hypotheses and back them up? How does it prompt us to keep asking questions?
Ask students to bring in a recent photograph of themselves (or use this opportunity to take new photographs during class). Students can ask similar questions of their own photograph or of their classmates’ photographs. Such as: What are you doing? Where are you and why did you go there? What did you do next? They should think about what they would want someone in the future to know about them. How does the composition of their photograph, their pose, or the setting suggest something about their identity?