Liz Harris: Street Photographer
For over two decades, artist and 22-year Jamaica Plain resident Liz Harris has played a prominent role in elevating Boston’s artistic profile. From 1984 to 2006, Harris operated an award-winning Boston art gallery, originally called “Harris Brown” and later changed to “The Liz Harris Gallery,” which displayed African antiquities and pieces by African American contemporary artists working primarily in abstract modes.
Growing up, Harris never dreamed of becoming an artist until a senior year photography course at Harvard. She quickly gained confidence in her ability to observe and frame the world around her, eventually submitting a photographic portfolio in her application to architecture school. After studying architecture for almost two years, Harris decided to focus her efforts on financial management and philanthropic consulting, helping to establish the livelihoods of minority business owners.
In 2001 Harris rekindled her interest in photography by attending a two-week intensive workshop in Havana, Cuba. Sponsored by the Main Photographic Workshop, this session was entitled “The Magical Moment” and focused on photographing unexpected sites, scenes, and people.
Here, Harris was introduced to street photography. Careful not to let her subjects know they are being shot, she patiently selects an environment and allows people to filter in and out of the frame, capturing in an instant the fleeting gestures and actions her unwitting subjects display. Examples of these can be seen on her website, www.lizzharris.com, which also shows photographs from her world travels.
In Havana, Harris leaped back into photography but initially avoided human subjects, concentrating on colorful studies of contrasting wall textures and natural shadows carved from architectural details. During these workshop critiques her instructor often said to her, “Love the buildings and colors, but where are the people?” Harris would reply, “inside the buildings.” This initial preference for photographing structures reflects her love of architecture but also reveals moments of self-consciousness. Harris said, “When I am shy I photograph the buildings, and when I am feeling bodacious I photograph the people.”
This will be Harris’s fourth year participating in Jamaica Plain Open Studios. In addition to displaying her own photography and mixed-media, Harris will rediscover the joys of curating and installing. Seven artists, hand-picked by Harris and her husband, will exhibit their work on the grounds of Harris’s Jamaica Plain home. Harris looks forward to the event and views Open Studios as “a great way to put my work out there and receive feedback… to just put your toes in the water.”
Jamaica Plain Open Studios is an annual free weekend-long celebration of the arts where over 200 artists display and sell their original work. This year, Open Studios occurs Sept. 29-30. Visit www.jpopenstudios.com or call 943-7819 for more information about the event, participating artists, and volunteer opportunities.
Jamaica Plain Open Studios is supported in part by a grant from the Boston Cultural Council, a local agency which is funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, administrated by the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events.
The writer is a volunteer with Jamaica Plain Open Studios.