Alex Harris Photographs

Images from Alex Harris' 1971-1972 project to document substandard housing and living conditions in North Carolina as an initiative of the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs at Duke University. More »

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Cabin Interior, Hickory Nut Gap, North Carolina ahpst001001

About the Digital Collection

"In 1971 I was fresh out of college and beginning my second education. I was invited that year by Joel Fleishman at the newly founded Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs at Duke University to complete a photographic study of substandard housing and living conditions in North Carolina. I traveled throughout the state for ten months with my 35mm camera. Looking back, I see this project as an opportunity for a young southerner actually to get to know something about the South beyond the suburbs by looking in depth at one southern state, by meeting and talking with people in their homes, and by making portraits and landscapes throughout the State. Without being able to articulate this idea, I was beginning to realize that by focusing on any subject – however narrow - the photographer has an opportunity to discover something he didn’t already know; to evoke larger themes and ideas. In completing this body of work I was also following the dictum of my teacher Walker Evans who told his students to avoid as much as possible the influence of the classroom and the museum, to have their work spring from what he called, 'the life of the streets.' For a young man learning how to be a photographer, I couldn’t have had better advice to follow, or a more interesting street to explore." -Alex Harris

Duke University Libraries digitized the Alex Harris Photographs using federal digitization guidelines, which dictate including the edge of an item in the resulting digital image. Therefore the edge of each photographic print is displayed in these images as well as the grey background behind the image at the time of digitization.

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Adopted by Hannah Jacobs

Source Collection

This digital collection comprises selected materials from the following archival collection at David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library:

Alex Harris photographs and papers 1970-2019

Collection #RL.10060 | 56 Linear Feet (88 boxes; 2 oversize folders)

Alex Harris is a documentary photographer, author, and professor emeritus at the Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, North Carolina. The over 700 black-and-white and color photographs in the collection span his career, and include projects exploring the landscapes and peoples of Alaska, the American South, New Mexico, and Cuba; portraits of older reading volunteers and students in Philadelphia; students on strike at Yale University; counter-culture people at a Rainbow Gathering in Arizona; the artist's son tethered to his game device; elderly people living on their own in North Carolina; the interior of author Reynolds Price's home; and movie production sets in the South. The gelatin silver and inkjet prints range in size from 8x10 inch reference prints to 24x36 inch exhibit prints. Harris's professional papers document his collaborations with other photographers and writers on books and exhibitions, including anthropologist Gertrude Duby Blom, naturalist E.O. Wilson, and South African photographers; they also cover his long career at Duke University, as teacher, author, and co-founder of the Center for Documentary Studies and its publication, DoubleTake. In addition to the paper records, there are many recorded oral histories and interviews. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

Collection Guide »

The copyright in the materials included in the Alex Harris Photographs collection are owned by the photographer. The photographs are made available by Duke University Libraries, with permission, for the purpose of research, teaching, and private study only. For all other uses, and especially for any proposed commercial uses, researchers must contact the Library to request permission.

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