Thomas Allen Harris
Thomas Allen Harris is an interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker and scholar whose work explores family, identity, and spirituality. Drawing on the rich canon of African American and African Diaspora literature and arts, he draws audiences into dialogues that transcend the barriers which separate people from each other. Harris’ work re-interprets concepts around identity, autobiography, and representation using a model of co-creative socially engaged practice.
For over 30 years Harris has been creating deeply personal films that re-interpret the idea of documentary, autobiography and personal archive, including: Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela (2005), É Minha Cara/That’s My Face (2001), VINTAGE - Families of Value (1995)., and the NAACP Image Award Winning, Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People (2014). Harris’ new projects include a film exploring his mother’s career as a chemistry professor and examining the unique challenges facing African Americans pursuing careers in STEM, and a film about the untold story BIPOC activism in the 1980’s around HIV/Aids and the queer creative renaissance.
The creation and touring of his films led Harris to create Digital Diaspora Family Reunion (DDFR), a transmedia project that explores the rich and revealing narratives found within family photo albums across cultures. Working in partnership with various educational institutions, libraries, and cultural arts spaces, DDFR organizes workshops, performances, and exhibitions that create communal linkages affirming our common humanity while privileging the voices of people whose stories have often been absent, marginalized or overlooked. The DDFR archive includes over 75 live events, 3,500 interviews and 50,000+ photographs. Out of this methodology, in 2019, Harris created the PBS series Family Pictures USA, a new format of television which takes a radical look at neighborhoods and cities of the United States through the lens of family photographs, collaborative performances, and personal testimony sourced from their communities. In 2021, Harris launched the Family Pictures Institute for Inclusive Storytelling to expand upon this work through robust research, evaluation, scholarly discussion, and artistic interpretation. The Family Pictures Institute is based at Yale with hubs around the country.
Harris’s publications include “Narrating Our History,” published in Sisters in the Life: A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-Making (Duke University Press, 2018) and “Close Up: The New York Scene” (On becoming Me: 1980s NYC Art and Culture Through A Queer Lens), published in Black Camera: An International Film Journal (Spring 2019). In addition, Harris is co-author of Collective Wisdom: Co-Creating Media for Equity and Justice (The MIT Press, 2022).
Harris is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, United States Artist Award, a Dartmouth College Montgomery Fellowship, and Independent Spirit Award nomination. In 2022, Harris received the Poorvu Family Fund Award for Academic Innovation.
At Yale University, Harris teaches a theoretical course “Family Narratives/Cultural Shifts” as well as an interdisciplinary production course entitled “Archive Aesthetics and Community Storytelling. Harris lectures widely on visual literacy and the use of media as a tool for social change.