Thomas Allen Harris is a critically acclaimed, interdisciplinary artist who explores conceptions of family, identity, environmentalism, and spirituality in a participatory practice. Graduate of Harvard College with a degree in Biology and the Whitney Independent Study Program, member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and published writer/curator, Harris lectures widely on the use of media as a tool for social change with a keen recognition for its potential to organize social movements and impact the biological body. He currently holds a position at Yale University as a Senior Lecturer in African American and Film & Media Studies, where he is teaching courses titled “Family Narratives/Cultural Shifts” and “Archive Aesthetics and Community Storytelling”. He is also working on a new television show, Family Pictures USA, 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.
Family Pictures USA uses methodologies Harris and his team developed with Digital Diaspora Family Reunion, LLC (DDFR), a socially engaged transmedia project that has incorporated community organizing, performance, virtual gathering spaces, and storytelling into over 60 unique audio-visual events in over 50 cities. Harris will talk about his trajectory as a media artist that led to DDFR and his documentary film work, including Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, his 2015 film that was developed in tandem with DDFR. Through A Lens Darkly features leading Black cultural figures, scholars, and photographers sharing their archives with Harris in an exploration of the ways photography has been used as a tool of representation and self-representation in history, garnering an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary film, the Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award, and an Africa Movie Academy Award, among others.
In conversation with MIT Professor Vivek Bald, Harris reveals his process, experiences, and unexpected outcomes working with communities in online and offline shared spaces and places.