Charles "Teenie" Harris

Charles "Teenie" Harris
  INT: Tell me the story of how you got started.
TH: Well, a guy from Washington, D.C. called me and before I went to the Courier. And he wants me to, ah, take some pictures, because he sent me 50 magazine. And so, ah, I -- I didn't let him know I could take pictures, but I -- I went on and got Johnny Taylor from the Courier to show me how to take pictures. So I -- what I did do, I got a camera and just took some pictures and things like 'at, but, ah, he wanted to, ah, put me in a darkroom where he -- doin' his work. And that's the YMCA. I said, "No, I can't do that. I -- I gotta go to a darkroom, where I want to be where I'm doin'." So, anyhow, I went to my brother and told him, I said, "You give me $350 and I want to git me a studio." So that's what I did. So then I started takin' pictures and the people started askin' me to take pictures and things like 'at, 'cause, see, my brother was pretty well known and -- and a lot of people asked me. So I went on and took the pictures. Then Johnny Taylor got mad at me 'cause I was makin' the money.

INT: Tell me the story of Flash Magazine.
TH: Well, the guy from -- Sewell from Washington, D.C. sent me some magazines, Flash. And they only cost 10 cent. So I said, "Well, I'll sell 'em." Then, ah, the fellow with me, who was a buddy of mine, he took 50 and I took 50. So, ah, he went on and sold -- went on and gave his away, but I said, "I'm sellin' mine," 'cause once I give one away, they think you always give 'em away. And I said, "I'm goin' to sell mine." So then we went on from there. But now how I got to the Courier, they saw the -- the magazine and they thought I's a good photographer. So, therefore, I went on and -- and -- and said ... "I'll take the pictures, but, ah, give me so much money," you know. So they said, "We'll give you $35 a week." So and $10 for supplies. Well, it wasn't doin' so hot. So, anyhow, I just went on and, ah, what I did ... I just went on and taken the pictures, you know.

INT: What were you doing working for your brother?
TH: Oh, I was in the numbers. And, ah -- and a lotta people says I'm crazy goin' and takin' pictures and -- and goin' into numbers. I said, "Well, I don't know. I like gettin' pictures." So -- so my brother told me, he said, "Well, Bro, you can't make no -- take no pictures -- make money in the pictures." I said, "Oh, you give me $350 and I'll show you what I can do." So he gave me the money and I went on and got the pictures. And a lot of people said they were mad at me kind of I stopped, you know, the numbers and things, you know? And I -- see, I didn't want to git locked up, 'cause I'd never been in jail in my life in '40 -- 89 years. So why will I go down to jail then? You know, things like 'at? So that's what I did.

INT: What did your brother say when you said you wanted to take pictures?
TH: He said, "You can't make no money takin' pictures." I said, "I think I can." So that's what I did. But he -- he passed away before he knew I did the pictures.

INT: Your brother was a famous numbers man?
TH: Yes, he was. Everybody knew him in Pittsburgh and New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. All of 'em knew him.

INT: What did they know him for?
TH: Well, he gambled.

INT: What did you like about takin' pictures?
TH: Well, I -- I like to see the girls. I got a kick outta that. But they say I always took good-lookin' girls, but I didn't do that. I took all kind of girls. And, ah, so that's all I can -- I can do.

INT: So you like the girls?
TH: Oh, yes. You can't help that.

INT: You had that big heavy camera when you were taking the pictures ...
TH: Four by five.

INT: What did they tell you about the camera?
TH: Well, what they -- see, The Post-Gazette and the press, they got away from the camera. They got 35- millimeter. And I wasn't goin' for that, 'cause, see, I bought my camera 'cause the Courier didn't buy the camera when I was there. And I tried to git them to pay so much for my studio work, you know, the rentin' of the place. They couldn't do that. So, anyhow, what I did, ah ... when, ah ... let me see. That was pretty far back 'ar.

INT: How did you get your nickname?
TH: Oh, ah, my cousin from Detroit and, ah, she used to call me "Teeny Little Lover". After I grew up, they took the "Lover" off.

INT: What about the other nickname?
TH: Well now, how I got the name One Shot, I went downtown and Governor Lawrence, the mayor, he nicknamed me One Shot because I just took one picture of him. And the other guys took seven or eight-ten pictures. I said, "Well, that's silly," because they have people makin' them things up and I'm the one that's got to make them things up. So I just take one. Then the Courier wouldn't pay me that much, so I just, you know, cut down.

INT: Show me how you would take the picture.
TH: Well, I don't have the -- I don't have the camera here. So I mean the only thing I did, just snapped the ball and caught the -- caught the ball and put the picture in my pocket. And the mayor laughed. I looked back at him and he said -- shook his head and went on out.

INT: Did you like working at the Courier?
TH: Well, I liked it. I mean, ah, they all treated me nice. They all treated me nice, but -- but I just didn't like the Courier because, ah, they didn't pay very much.

INT: Why not?
TH: I don't know. They were just cheap, I guess.

INT: Tell the story about taking pictures at Fort Bragg during the war.
TH: Yeah, I remember that story. Wendell Smith and I went down and he, ah -- we stopped over at a place where they called -- just before we got to Fort Bragg -- and, ah, what he did, he went to -- he asked me to use my car. I said, "No, this is not the Courier car. This is my car." And I -- you know me. I have a Cadillac and I ain't lettin' that car go out. He got mad at me and -- and I went on to sleep. He wanted to go out brothelin', you know. And, ah, if I let him have that car, something would happen to it, the Courier wouldn't pay me 'cause they won't do nothin' for it.

INT: Tell about taking the soldiers' pictures.
TH: Well, I went down there and they -- they didn't have no guns. I said, "How'm I gonna take pictures?" And so, ah, 'cause, you know, Wendell Smith, he's gone. He'd left me. So I had to git my own and that's what I did. I went over there and got some guns and, ah -- and let the boys walk -- stand around with 'em. And so, ah ... and then I comes back and then they had their wooden guns. I borrowed some guns and then what I did, ah, let -- let it look like they're real soldiers.

INT: What did you look for when you took pictures of people?
TH: Well, I looked for certain things, but, ah, as long as they didn't look at me, I be all right, I'll tell you now. And, ah, you can look around anyway, but don't look at my camera. So that's what I did. I'll tell you one thing about it, though. When you take a picture, you're always ready to go back to the darkroom to see how it's made out. That's one thing about the pictures. And, ah -- and I see it's turned out all right and I'm happy.

INT: How did you learn how to take pictures?
TH: Well, I learnt from Johnny Taylor. He was a Courier photographer. And I did my way. And, ah, that is the way it goes.

INT: How did Johnny Taylor learn how to take pictures?
TH: Well, I didn't know that and I didn't care. (Unintell.) (Laughs)

INT: You weren't in the armed services during World War II, were you?
TH: No, no.

INT: Tell me the story about how you almost went into the Navy.
TH: Well, I almost went into the Navy, and I didn't want to go in the Army. I got to thinkin' 'bout I can't swim, you know what I mean? And I said, "Well, somethin's wrong with me." And then I went on back down the steps and went on home.

INT: Show me the Double V sign.
TH: Well, Double V Victory, that was the Courier. I don't have nothin' to do with that, but he -- the fella that went with me and, ah ... we went out and went different places and picked girls out and -- and -- and get -- you know, have 'em, ah, make up Double V's and everything. But, ah, there wasn't much to it. Just Double V, that's all.

INT: It must have been kind of fun.
TH: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. All fun. And everything I taken was fun.

INT: Why?
TH: Huh?

INT: Why was it fun?
TH: I don't know. I enjoyed it.

INT: So did you pick those Double V girls?
TH: Yeah!

INT: What did you look for when you picked Double V girls?
TH: Oh, well, now, I looked for some girls pretty and I took their pictures. .

INT: Tell about your Cadillac and Jackie Robinson.
TH: Oh, well, -- Jackie Robinson come to town and he's on Center Avenue and he seen me gettin' in my Cadillac and he didn't say nothin'. You know, he just looked at me, just "Man, this is somethin' else." So then he come back with a Cadillac himself. Same car I had.

INT: You think he was surprised to see a photographer with a Cadillac?
TH: That's right. Oh, wait a minute. I'll tell you one thing. I's goin' to a fire and the guy settin' on the back of the -- I mean the car -- trucks, he said, "Man, we're in the wrong business. This guy got a Cadillac and got a camera and he taken our picture!" And so, ah -- and I had the Cadillac, too, you know. Well, I had several ones, you know, different ones (Unintell.).

INT: What was Pittsburgh like?
TH: Well, truthfully, it's pretty hard to say because people are so evenly -- I mean white and colored, no trouble. Now the -- the Jews, they had trouble. I don't know what it -- what it was, because if they come down Wiley Avenue, the guys would gang 'em.

INT: What would you tell a woman in the way of how to pose when you were taking her picture?
TH: Well, I -- I look at you and see how -- how you like -- like I see it, but about you can't just change a person by just posin' like 'at. You know, you can't do that. Let 'em -- I let 'em just take certain ways and then I'll look at 'em and I'll snap it.

INT: What do you mean?
TH: Well, it's pretty hard to say that, because you don't know that. When I set a woman down and I pose 'em and -- and she has a certain way to lean, because everbody's not the same. Now you can take all the women you want, that ain't all the same.

INT: What is it that made your pictures different from other photographers' pictures?
TH: I don't know. Don't ask me that question, 'cause I don't know. I'm tellin' you the truth. I just don't know. That somehow I did somethin', ah, that's amazing. I was a good artist myself. I was a very good artist in -- in school, because they put my pictures up on the walls and things.

INT: How far did you go in school?
TH: I went to the eighth grade.

INT: Why?
TH: Well, I dropped out 'cause I's tired of school!

INT: Tell me what Wiley Avenue was like back then.
TH: Well, everything would go on all night 'til five o'clock in the morning. Nobody bothered you and people come out of the places, that they had a place named Paramount Inn. And my mother had a hotel right next door to it, 'cause they'd wake you up at night, you know. So, ah, I just look out the window and everything is so lovely. Streetcars runnin' down the street, but the streetcars, they made noise because, ah, boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom, you know, like 'at? So I'd stayed awake.

INT: But tell me about Wiley Avenue.
TH: Well, that's all I had -- you had to be there. You'd truthfully have to be there. Ain't nothin' I can say that , ah, change that (Unintell.) because people enjoyed yourself, colored, white, and everything, and they'd go uptown, they'd come down -- I mean they're downtown. They come up here and -- and have a ball. But, see, I didn't -- I didn't go around in no bars or nothin' like 'at. I had guys that do that. I got -- I give a guy a camera and let him go out and take pictures. But I didn't like that kinda way.

INT: How did you get assignments from the Courier?
TH: Well, I went up to the office and, ah, my slip was right on the string. I just took'em off and read the assignments.

INT: You were freelance?
TH: I was freelancin' and that's -- and that's what I was at the time. But then Wendell Smith, the city editor, said, "You want to make $50 a week?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, give me two dollars." I give him four. "Get yourself in." Just, you know, like 'at.

INT: What was the two dollars for?
TH: For the union. See, I was in a union a long time. They didn't know that. And then, ah, when I found -- they found out I was in the union, then they started pay-- give me $5 a week, I mean $5 every month, like 'at. And they kept goin' up.

INT: Did you know that you were a great photographer back then?
TH: No. Didn't know it. Uh-uhm. But I -- I had an act that I used and then, ah, the people were happy about it.

INT: What act?
TH: Act when I -- when I to go schools, I'm clownin'.

INT: Tell me what you mean.
TH: Well, I used to kick up and things like 'at. Still I can kick up, you know. And I did a lotta things. I used to dance and things.

INT: You used to dance to take pictures?
TH: No. I didn't dance, but I got ready just like, ah, Jefferson's done. I used to see him doin' them things and he'd kick his leg out and things like 'at, that tickled me because I used to do that.

INT: So you would clown around to get people relaxed?
TH: Yeah.

INT: Tell me about it.
TH: Well, I guess I was just happy. Just I -- I'll put it that way. I go out anywhere, I'm not sad. I didn't worry 'bout the money or nothin' like 'at, because I -- I hit the numbers and do everything, you know.

INT: So you were happy to take those pictures?
TH: That's right. Very happy.

INT: Tell me about your act again.
TH: Well you could call it showin' off. And you -- and you kicked your feet and things like that.

INT: What did that do?
TH: Well, I don't know. It does somethin' to me and it does somethin' for everbody, if they ever see it. Of course, now I can't do it. I -- I think I can, but I'm not sure.

INT: Show me.
TH: How do you expect me to do somethin' at 89? Huh? I can do this, one like 'at. Naw, I ain't gonna to do all that stuff. That's bad. I'm goin' to get me all messed up here. Uh-uhm. You just have to be there at that time, that's all. I want to tell you right now. Uh-uhm. See, I see movies come on this television and I get up and want to dance. You know what I mean? You have to have music.

INT: So you relaxed people this way?
TH: Yeah, and -- and then I'd get up and jump on the piano -- player -- I mean a (Unintell.) grand? I'd jump on that. Just stand. I could jump hi, just put my foot on the floor and jump in 'ere and do it.

INT: Now you took some movies, didn't you?
TH: Yeah.

INT: Tell me about that.
TH: I took movies and I took 'em out to South Park and I took 'em on Wiley Avenue and -- and I took 'em in college. I've got a lotta colleges.

INT: Why'd you take movies?
TH: Well, ah, I took movies 'cause I can see the people, you know, where I've been. And when I come back home, I like to see 'em. A lotta people didn't see 'em, but I had 'em.