A lifelong student of the medium and its history (he earned his master's degree in Pictorial/Documentary History), Harris began interviewing photographers early in his career. His first book, published in 1998, was Faces of the Twentieth Century: Master Photographers and Their Work, which included interviews with dozens of photographic icons. Studying at the feet of world-class photographers offers a unique opportunity—to learn about the medium directly from those who define it at its highest level.
"I have access to these incredible people," Harris says. "I was fortunate to interview a lot of photographers who are no longer with us—Helmut Newton, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Galen Rowell—and, to this day, of course, it continues on. First of all, what I think it does is it keeps me on the very top of my game. I'm constantly exposed to the very best of the best in photography. They have been my teachers, in a way, and I've learned so much from them.
I think one of the key things is that they don't sit around and wait for the phone to ring."I've done maybe 1,000 interviews by now," he continues, "and I've gotten something from every one. I think one of the key things is that they don't sit around and wait for the phone to ring. You look at all these photographers and they're self-motivators. They get out there, they're interested in what's going on. Probably the worst word to any of them is 'retirement.' That would be the worst thing in the world. They're so excited about what they do and they want to get out there. That doesn't mean it's easy at all, but you don't separate yourself from what you're doing. Picasso was a painter; at 5 o'clock, he didn't say, 'It's time to go home and be a different person.'"
Adds Harris, "We're so fortunate as photographers to be able to live this way and express ourselves through the camera. And I use the word 'fortunate' very carefully because sometimes you hear the word 'luck,' like, 'Oh, you're so lucky.' We're fortunate, we're not lucky. Luck is pure chance, and there's too much hard work that goes into doing this and maintaining it to just be luck. I think we're fortunate."
Listening to Harris describe the master photographers he has had the good fortune to learn from, it's clear that he doesn't realize he's also describing himself. He has drive and a diligent work ethic. He's no stranger to "just getting out there," and he, too, has never waited for the phone to ring.
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