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'One Shot: The Life and Work of Teenie Harris'

Tribute to 'Teenie' Photos are the prize in Harris documentary

Friday, February 09, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The photographs of Charles "Teenie" Harris, who chronicled African-American life for 40 years while wielding a camera for the Pittsburgh Courier, serve to tell his own story in Kenneth Love's documentary "One Shot: The Life and Work of Teenie Harris."

'One Shot:
The Life
And Work Of
Teenie Harris'

RATING: Unrated; contains nothing objectionable.

DIRECTOR: Kenneth Love.



The movie will be screened tonight at 7:30 at the Byham Theater in a special one-time-only presentation by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

Love, a free-lance filmmaker who once worked on National Geographic specials at WQED-TV, begins the film with the standard PBS technique of talking heads offering an overview of the subject. Before long, however, we meet Harris through his pictures and, ultimately, in the flesh -- in footage shot a few months before his death in 1998.

Harris was a studio photographer at first, shooting portraits of individuals and groups in the Hill District. In the mid-1930s, he went to work for the Courier, then the most influential black newspaper in the country.

The scope of his work expanded as a result, in concert with the Courier's mission to provide coverage of a community that mainstream newspapers largely ignored and to crusade for improvement in both the living conditions and the basic human rights of African-Americans.

Love, whose video reproduction is crystal clear, and his filmmaking colleagues arrange the photos so that they advance the story and show us both the era and the subjects of Harris' work -- great jazz musicians working the clubs on the Hill, athletes, politicians and, always, everyday people.

Context is provided in the narration by Roscoe Lee Browne and the commentary of former Courier staffers Frank Bolden and Edna McKenzie, historians Laurence Glasco and Rob Ruck and others.

It would have been nice to see more of Harris in action and to hear more of the story in his own voice. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, he could never have said enough to speak with as much eloquence of his own photographs.

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