An interview with Artist Carla Jay Harris

In anticipation for her upcoming MFA Thesis show at UCLA opening April 30th, we spoke with Shoebox PR artist Carla Jay Harris about her work, her influences and the state of documentary photography today. Keep an eye out for Carla’s upcoming exhibition at UCLA and follow her on social media to see how her Thesis show is evolving, progressing and changing.

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In the studio




Tell me about your art career? When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist/photographer? 

Art has been a large part of my life since childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that had a great appreciation for art and music.  We (my sister and I) were encouraged to be creative and support art and artists.  As a child, I dabbled in music and drawing. I did not start getting into photography until the end of my undergraduate program. I signed up for a darkroom class at the local community college over the summer and just fell in love with the medium. My love grew from a hobby to a dedicated passion over the 5-6 years after I graduated.

How would you describe your style?

If I had to categorize my work, I would describe it as fine art conceptual. Everything I do merges fantasy and reality in an attempt to convey inner experience.

What type of camera do you work with?

I mostly shoot with a Canon 5D. I inherited an old Canon AE1 from my Mother’s attic way back when I took my first photo class. I’ve pretty much stuck with Canon’s since.

Where did you grow up and how does it affect your work today?

I usually say I’m from Virginia; however, that is not really true. My family and my family’s history is in Virginia. I was actually born in Indiana while my father was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Due to him being attached to the military, I actually grew up across the US and Europe. I think my nomadic childhood is what, in part, has attracted me to photography. The camera is a way for me to attach to permanence. Memory, heritage and loss are major themes in my work. I am dealing directly with them in my thesis project.

What message do you want to convey?

I think of my work as more of a conversation than a lecture. I want to generate a dialog with my audience about our shared experiences in the world.

What photographers and artists have influenced you?

I am heavily influenced by photographer’s that work with constructed fiction and film. Some of my favorites are Alec Soth, Carrie Mae Weems, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Roy DeCarava and Larry Sultan.

Looking at your open studio photos, it seems your work has changed a bit from framed photographs to installation? What prompted this change?

I think of the installation as an extension of the photographs. My practices always come back to the recorded image no matter how far I stray. This project was prompted by an exploration of the images in my family archive.  After working with found images for a while, I felt that the installation was necessary to retain the context and power of them. The overall theme of my thesis show is the relationship between heritage and identity. It has now expanded beyond my familial heritage to include more contemporary aspects of American and African-American cultural heritage. Nevertheless, the installation remains. I feel it provides access to a more immersive and psychological space. It also speaks to how we live with these images.

Where do you think the state of photography is today? Do you think the documentary photograph still has relevance?

We often discuss this within my cohort at UCLA. Many of us are experimenting with alternative processes and methods of display with our images. The abundance of vernacular imagery cannot help but impact photographic art field.   I think the documentary image can still have power; however, photography as a whole is in a state of transition.

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