Through his portraits, Andrew Harris, A25, shows people of color in all their individuality
Andrew Harris’ latest photography project shows six men in six photos. Some of the subjects, like the pole vaulter and the weightlifter, show strength in their bodies. Others, like the older, suited man leaning his foot on a car bumper, show strength in their eyes.
“My idea was to shoot Black males who were very inspiring to me or who have left an impact in my life,” said Harris, A25. His major is computer science, but his passion is photography. His goal is to elevate Black people through his photos, which have already won national awards.
This recent project was part of the Through These Realities exhibition at Arts at the Armory in Somerville. The show paired local photographers of color with local poets of color. Harris chose to illustrate a poem about Jackie Robinson that connects the baseball legend’s athletic career to his African heritage.
Harris’ first thought was to feature Tufts athletes in his series, but soon added friends and family, including his older brother and his grandfather (Sam Dualu, in the suit). Only later, when the young photographer consulted with the director of the exhibit, Joshua Sariñana, did the idea of framing the photos as baseball cards emerge. The implication is, as Harris said, that these people “have left a legacy or that they're going to leave a legacy.”
Harris didn’t discover photography until his second year of high school, when drawing class didn’t fit in his schedule. As a fan of computers and other technology, he instantly felt at home with a camera. And he liked that just the act of photographing something, even something mundane, could make it beautiful.
Then, in 2019, he saw that The New York Times was holding a student photo contest.
“I really, really, really wanted to be in it,” Harris said, “so I think I spent the entire spring learning how to use a camera. I don’t think there was a day I wasn't taking pictures. That was when I fell in love with photography.”
He submitted a photo of his then 6-year-old little sister Princess taken at a park near their home in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was chosen as one of 15 winners out of more than 2,200 entries.
Since then, Harris has won several accolades from the likes of the Scholastic Art Awards, the National YoungArts Foundation, and the International Photography Awards. The most prestigious was probably being named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts in 2021.
But the Times award may mean the most to him, because it was the first outside recognition that his photos were good. “Maybe I can do this,” he remembers thinking, “and maybe I should keep doing this.”
Harris has tried doing other forms of photography, like landscapes and buildings, but he keeps coming back to portraits, in part because of the interaction. “I’m interested in people, but I struggled to connect with them a little bit,” he said, mentioning that at one time a psychology review tagged him as introverted. He’s not sure he buys that, but it’s true, he said, that “I get to know people more when I’m taking pictures of them.”
In 2020, he volunteered to take photos of everyone in his high school’s Black and Latinx affinity group—all 59 members—for Black History Month. He wanted to show “how diverse the Black diaspora at the school was because they were seen as one clump of people.” He spent days with some of his subjects, hearing their stories and figuring out how to make each portrait a true reflection.
“We're all different people with different experiences,” he said.
Some pieces of his own story: Born in Liberia, he moved to the United States at age 9, taking a plane by himself because his father had already come over. “I think I got pretty used to change pretty young,” he said. That helped him when he later left Lowell to attend Middlesex, a private, predominantly white boarding school in Concord, Massachusetts.
This past year at Tufts, he has worked on honing his photography style and sticking to a theme in his projects. (Did you notice that his Through These Realities portraits follow a brown and blue color scheme?) He has also gotten involved in reviving Onyx, Tufts’ student-run Black literary and visual arts magazine, begun in 1984.
One day, he said, he would like to open a gallery for photography and art created by Black artists. Until then, he has set himself a challenge: “I want to say something with each picture I take.”