Jeremy Harris rose to fame with his amazing photo series “American Asylums, Moral Architecture in the 19th Century” featuring dilapidating interiors of abandoned mental institutions in the eastern United States. Those haunting photos were shot over a period of almost a decade and captured the haunting backdrop of the institutions abuzz with misunderstanding and maltreatment of mental patients in the bygone era. In his most famous series, Jeremy documented the lives of people that spent their entire lives in an environment that still echoes in his images.
Jeremy still explores the abandoned insane asylums of the North-east US for an upcoming book. Most of his work nowadays comprises of fine art and commercial photography shooting bands, artists, fighters, bicyclists etc. Except for the first few photos, rest of the images presented here are from him recent works that show how diverse his photostream is. Here’s our simple Q&A with this very talented photographer:
Hello Jeremy, please tell us about yourself:
I was born in Abeline TX and grew up in Northern Virginia near Washington DC. I was interested in art in High School and took my first photography class in my senior year and decided to pursue it as a career. In 1990 I moved to San Francisco for college. I earned a BFA in photography for the Academy Of Art College. For past 17 years I have been working as a freelance photographer. I like bicycling, cooking, urban exploration and I enjoy spending time with friends, checking out live music, camping. I travel out of the country at least once a year.
I went freelance in 1997, working for a variety of pro photographers as an assistant. Initially I wanted to go into the field of architectural photography, but soon I realized that I more enjoyed being on shoots that involved people. I began working on my own portfolio and got my first clients around 2003. Those include Alternative Press Magazine, Kerrang! Magazine, and various other portrait clients in the Bay Area.
Due in part to a personal project, American Asylums, which was taking me to the east coast a few times a year, I moved to Brooklyn NY in 2009. I try to shoot as much as I can, but find I do spend more time editing and working on my business. I do try to set up test shoots as frequently as I can, maybe once a month or so.
Photography for me, has always been a form of self expression. It’s a way of documenting the world I see around me… a way to escape reality, to face my fears, to become a better person. Of course it all depends on what I’m photographing. It is also what I do to earn a living. There are times that I wish I would have kept photography rather then rely on it to live. Running a photo business can get stressful at times, and sometimes it seems I spend more time in front of my computer in my office, then out shooting photos. Photographing on assignment is much different then photographing for fun. One has to be up for the challenge of creating a successful image on the spot, often in un-ideal locations with un-ideal subjects with limited time. This takes practice, just like anything else. Now it seems that there is not much I cannot handle on a shoot.
As I mentioned before, I decided to focus on portrait and people photography as a way to force myself to become more outgoing, as I was rather shy as a youngster. I began to enjoy interacting with people on a shoot. Being in control (to an extent) and having the subject trust you and your vision is a great thing. I shoot portraits and people on location. Musicians, rock stars, businessmen, athletes. I also enjoy shooting a few weddings per year. Shooting weddings offers up a whole host of new challenges, but I enjoy the occasion and the energy of the day. Working with clients who really appreciate your skill and who ultimately love the final images is nice as well. I enjoy creating images for people that will be cherished for a life time. I also like to travel and always have a camera with me.
I started out shooting film. That’s all there was. I loved medium and large format cameras. I owned a Hasselbald 501cm, and loved that camera. As digital technology began, I kept up with it and dabbled with various cameras. The technology with DSLR’s came about just as I was getting my career going, and I found that digital offered me more security on a job. Then clients started adopting digital photography into their work flow, and I stopped shooting film for jobs completely. It was nice to be able to see the image immediately and be able to tweak lighting, etc. quickly. I used to have to shoot a Polaroid, and wait for it to develop in order to test my setup. This was time consuming and produced a great deal of waste. I still shoot medium format in my personal work, occasionally. I enjoy shooting with film cameras. Using light meters, having to wait to see the images. It’s exciting.
Well… not sure about any major achievement, other then managing to stay alive all these years. Highlights in my career though, include photographing Jack Black and Dave Grohl, Ozzy Osbourne (I’m a huge Black Sabbath fan), and Slayer in Mexico City. I shoot for a variety of clients including Clearchannel Media + Entertainment, Kerrang!, Razorfish, Bicycling, Rolling Stone, Capital Records to name a few.
Your project on abandoned asylum is most talked about and admired. Please share with us your experience with this project and related issues/difficulties/risks. What do you think is there in those images which keeps people engaged and affects them deeply?
People seem to really respond positively to this series. It became a bit of an obsession of mine, back in 2007. To explore and photograph as many abandoned asylums, state schools, and sanitariums as I could. This has often been very challenging as I used to have to fly across the county to meet up with friends for 1 or 2 week trips. Besides the travelling aspect, most of the places I have seen can be tricky to access. Yes, I am aware of the emotional effects of my images. They are of places that have a dark past. Places which were inhabited by disturbed and unhappy individuals. But I try to focus on the beauty of the architecture and how the light interacts with a space throughout the day. The changes that have taken place over the years, the peeling paint, the rotting wood, the decay, it’s all very fascinating to me. I believe my viewers respond to my images for the reasons I am drawn to photograph the locations. On one hand, they can be dark, and often sad, but yet breathtakingly peaceful and beautiful at the same time. I like to think that people look at my photographs and will learn about an part of American History. The history of how we tried to help the mentally ill in our country for the good and the bad.
I’m currently working on a series involving mixed martial arts fighters. I’ve always been attracted to intense personalities, and these fighters can certainly be intense. Though I find that in person they have all been very friendly and fun to work with. I greatly admire their work ethic and desire to be the best at what they do and hope to begin some basic training soon, as least in kickboxing.
I’d say the biggest challenge that I’m facing now, is getting new clients in a market that seems to be over saturated with photographers. It’s not only about having great work, it’s about having great business skills and getting your work noticed. Then once you’ve been given an assignment, building a solid relationship with the client so it will hopefully produce future assignments.
New York? One of the greatest cities in the world! I say that about San Francisco as well (I spent 18 years there). New York, as much as I love it, is tough. It’s a dog eat dog city where everyone it seems is trying to be something and do something and make their way to the top. This idea is inspiring and at the same time, exhausting. There are many times I wish I lived in a small town, and had a nice day job, and could spend my free time sitting on the porch of an old house reading a book, or walking my dog in the woods. My Future plans? I want to continue to challenge myself, fulfill my goals, create amazing images for my myself and my clients.
If you want to do photography for a living, take a business class. I wish I would have, before going to art school. Keep shooting. Have as much fun as possible. Eat your vegetables.