Body Shots 

Brownie Harris’ portraits reveal what lies beneath

Portraits Spanning 40 Years
On display through Dec. 1
The Real Estate Studio
214 King St.
(800) 476-8444
www.brownieharris.com

A retrospective of photographer Brownie Harris' work is on display at the Real Estate Studio. For over 40 years, Harris has photographed the likes of John F. Kennedy Jr., Miles Davis, and Sophia Loren.

In recent years, Harris has turned his lens toward architecture and landscape, photographing everything from scenic mountain ranges to car manufacturing plants.

His work has carried him around the world, from Paris to New York, and now, to Wilmington, N.C., where he lives with his family. This is only the second time his work has been collected for a major exhibition.

City Paper caught up with Harris recently.

City Paper: You began your career in 1972. Were you always on the photography path?

Brownie Harris: I started with my father's camera when I was nine. My favorite subject was my rabbit and pet squirrel. Later, after receiving a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, my first professional assignment was photographing Buster Crabbe, an actor who played Flash Gordon in the 1930s and '40s. I thought it was cool that he was my first subject.

I was excited to photograph Paul Newman racing at Lyme Rock Race Track in Connecticut. David Brinkley, the great American journalist, was my favorite, as he was the funniest and most intelligent man I had ever met. We became friends over the last few years of his life.

CCP: What lessons did you learn that you still use today?

BH: Your subject is more important than yourself. A lot of photographers make that mistake. Research before you photograph. You might find something interesting about your subject to talk about, and that relaxes them.

CCP: The work here focuses on your portrait photographs. Talk about how a portrait can hide and reveal certain things in a subject.

BH: You need an eye to capture the inner spirit of your subject, and that is truly a gift. It's not about control, but more about the subject and photographer letting go. Otherwise, all you have is a likeness of that person, which anyone can capture.

CCP: What unique challenges arise when you work with celebrities?

BH: There are always challenges when photographing celebrities, but they are usually great once you get past their handlers. The rewards can be that the photograph becomes an icon of that person or that time in our lives.

Musicians are some of my favorite subjects. They tend to be more emotional and impatient. One memorable day was in Washington, D.C., with Miles Davis and his wife, Cicely Tyson, the actress. I took his photograph in his hotel room. You see both of his lives on his face, and an indentation of the trumpet mouthpiece on his upper lip.

CCP: What about JFK, Jr. intrigued you?

BH: I liked him instantly. He was a true gentleman and made me feel at ease. This portrait was the first private portrait ever since his father was in the White House. He gave me something that conveyed what he would look like in the future.

CCP: Whom in the news today would you like to photograph?

BH: Barack Obama. I had a chance to photograph him in Charleston about a year and a half ago, but I thought he looked too young and would never have a chance to be president. I was wrong.


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