Carla Jay Harris's mission is to document intellectual, emotional, and psychological environments. She trained as a photographer, however, in recent years she has developed a multidisciplinary practice that includes photography, installation, collage, and drawing. This transformation was inspired by her desire to bring together her interests in image-making, space, and spectatorship. Harris's interest in installation is rooted in her desire to create space for cross-cultural dialogue and she sees creating such spaces as an outlet for political and social activism.
Harris's creative process begins with research and writing. She draws from scholarly research, interviews, local history, and her family archives to ground her work in lived experiences. From there, Harris uses the camera (in studio or on the street) to compose the foundational images of the work on film. Finally, she scans these images into her digital studio where they are combined with hand-drawn illustration and digital collage.
Harris's most recent body of work, Celestial Bodies, is inspired by her experience as a "third culture kid." Harris spent a significant chunk of her developmental years living outside the United States—primarily in Italy and Germany. This surreal experience permanently shifted her perception of belonging. Othered by race, language, culture, and nationality, she was drawn to mythology. Throughout history, mythology has served humankind’s need to understand nature, society, and the environment. Through myth-making Harris has been able to tap into a sense of belonging that extends from a connection to universal cultural concerns and narratives. Celestial Bodies also draws influence from works by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Lorna Simpson, Frida Kahlo, and Gustav Klimt.
Born in Indianapolis, IN, but raised traveling the world as the child of a military officer, Carla Jay Harris’s social and artistic development was impacted tremendously by the geopolitical and natural environments she encountered. She fervently believes that physical and physiological space has a fundamental, lasting impact on personal identity. While the environment around us is constantly evolving, photography has the power to capture a place or a moment—transforming a flicker in time into a lasting, appreciable statement. Harris’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the California African American Museum, CA; the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, CA; the Southern, Charleston, SC; Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY; and the Museum of Fine Arts Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. She has been the beneficiary of several grants and fellowships, including the Hoyt Scholarship, Resnick Fellowship, and a grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance. Harris completed undergraduate coursework at the School of Visual Arts in New York, received her Bachelor’s degree with distinction from the University of Virginia, and her MFA from UCLA in 2015. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Carla Jay Harris will participate in See How Beautiful I Am, the 2020 SF Camerawork Benefit Auction, to be hosted by Artsy. Harris has donated a print from her Snake Bearer series.
Over its 46-year history, SF Camerawork has provided early career opportunities for artists. SF Camerawork’s mission and programs are dedicated to engaging and enriching local artists and their creative work.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Carla Jay Harris has been honored with the cover of the 100th Issue of PólisArt Magazine, including a twenty-two page editiorial feature on her Desert Cotton series.
"My nomadic childhood is what, in part, attracted me to photography. The camera is a way for me to connect to permanence. Memory, heritage, and loss are major themes in my work."
—Carla Jay Harris
The gallery is pleased to announce "Making Bitter Earth," an online conversation between artist Carla Jay Harris and historian Brenda E. Stevenson, Ph.D., moderated by SF Camerawork Board President Michelle Branch on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. Harris and Stevenson will discuss their recent collaboration, Bitter Earth, a site-specific installation whose title is taken from the 1960s blues track “This Bitter Earth,” written by Clyde Otis and sung by legendary blues women and rhythm and blues singers Dinah Washington, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Mikki Howard.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that the California African American Museum, located in Los Angeles has acquired work by Carla Jay Harris. Harris' Sphinx (2018) is currently on view in Sanctuary, a group exhibition of recent museum acquisitions that focuses on safe spaces and self-care as part of the African American experience. Founded in 1977, the CAAM is the first African American museum of art, history, and culture fully supported by a state.
I began my career as a documentary photographer. I worked in that capacity (primarily in New York) for nearly ten years. For most of that time, I thrived on the energy and challenges of photojournalism. However, towards the end and over time I began to feel bit constrained – constrained not only by the practical limits of journalism but also the demands of a commercial art practice. In reaction to these feelings, my interest in fine art blossomed.
Carla Jay Harris is equally driven by research and materiality, as she builds complex mixed media images and objects on the foundations of painstaking historical deep dives into personal and geopolitical events. Across photography, collage, drawing, and environmental installation, Harris delicately blurs the boundaries of space and time to highlight ancestral rhymes and the follow-on effects of history. Part of her practice involves literal place-making, as she incorporates her juxtapositions of archival and original images with pattern, portrait, and talisman into rooms that ideally function as social gathering points where the conversations sparked in the work can continue in the present.
When I first saw Carla Jay Harris’ project Celestial Bodies at AIPAD (NYC) in 2019 I was spellbound. More than beautiful and graceful, her work was ethereal. Like a bashful vagrant, I conspicuously loitered by the Kopeikin Gallery booth, hoping I would have a chance to meet the artist. Ironically, I learned that she was from my hometown of Los Angeles. Emblematic of her stratospheric talent, it required a transcontinental journey for me to be introduced to someone that was practically my neighbor. Perhaps you really can’t go home again! I chatted online with Carla in June 2020 about her work and process.
There is a profound stillness in Carla Jay Harris’ photographs—her framing and shooting style emits a pervasive calm that quiets the anxiety of her subject matter. Harris’ ability to create silence amid moments of emotional upheaval is eerie, tense, and evocative. Two bodies of work portray people and places in the midst of economic and cultural change; Dirt, Dust, Sand, Concrete (2012–2015) shows Smithfield, Virginia, amid a corporate buyout, and Culture of Desperation (2012) portrays a struggling record company during lean times.
The California African American Museum (CAAM) presents recently acquired works in its exhibition called Sanctuary. The exhibition focuses on safety and refuge in relation to the African American experience. One piece in the exhibit is from Carla Jay Harris, which pictures a female figure in a celestial landscape. She explains, “I’ve had a bit of a nomadic life…Through my life, I seek to connect with permanence. Safe space and making time for self-care is essential to your own mental health and wellness.”
Carla Jay Harris’ series, Celestial Bodies, does not entirely eliminate facial features in the work, but the features of these powerful women are not the focus either. Rather, Harris creates regal, spiritual images that combine a range of mediums. She terms them a link between the mythological and the real; travels as a child in a military family, and a sense of rootlessness, of being an outsider attracted her to the inclusiveness of legend.
Carla Jay Harris’s work investigates how physical space influences psychological space. Through photographs, composites, sculptures and built environments, Harris explores the interaction of the interior with the exterior, of home with the outside world, of image and meaning. A 2015 graduate of UCLA’s MFA program, where she studied with Catherine Opie and James Welling among other artists, Harris exhibited her work this fall at Sonce Alexander Gallery in Los Angeles.
“Remembrance,” at Rose Gallery. A group show featuring work by artists such as Martin Parr, Carla Jay Harris, Lebohang Kganye and others explores the ways in which photography has molded ideas of family and the ways in which that notion intersects with society and politics. Prior to the opening, the gallery is hosting a photography sale to raise funds for those affected by recent wildfires.
Photographer Carla Jay Harris generously shares with LFF about how her nomadic existence inspires her work; her upcoming thesis exhibition, If She Were Me, for her studies at UCLA; her wish for art; how LA is for women in art and more.
"In this photoessay, I document the changing economic realities of the American worker by evaluating my relationship to my family heritage. The essay is centered on Smithfield, VA. In 2013, Smithfield, home to my family for many generations, lost its primary employer (Smithfield Foods) to a Chinese conglomerate in the largest ever buyout by a Chinese firm. Since that time, a pall of fear and trepidation has fallen over the town. These images serve as a lasting testament to the personal costs of our 21st century consumer-driven culture."