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Darris Lee Harris (Contemporary)

Thirty-something photographer Darris Lee Harris's day job is documenting newly built structures for their most advertorial impact. They are elegant exercises in selling the talents of chic architects to the builders of the new century. But when he's not fulfilling his clients' fantasies, he looks for the pure shapes and shadows that the city makes.

'Looking" is the operative word in his process. The discovery of those forms, without the baggage of a narrative, is the definition of modernism since the time of Cezanne and the later cubists. "I feel the urge to look at the things I do because they are without politics or religion. The views are independent of wealth and poverty. Only in cities such as Chicago can one find such an interplay of structures that reveal the complex forms and designs that I find so interesting."

Darris took the usual escape route of a Kansas boy interested in art and design. Midway through Wichita State University he left for Chicago's Columbia College and its famous school of photography. The work of Bob Thall, a longtime instructor there, influenced him with its formalist precisionism. The student who loved the Hudson River School and the romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich found a way to capture the unromantic grit and engineered layers of Chicago.

Since 1994, when he began to seriously develop this body of work, Darris has biked around the less obvious vantage points 'fishing' for images, setting up his 4 x 5 view camera on streets and rooftops to dissect Chicago to its very bone structure. "Some days I find nothing while other days yield a bounty. I never know, I just have to go out and see what happens. What surprises me is that original images can still be had in this often photographed city."

In some of his works, a horizon of gigantic bridge and expressway beams reveals a 'middle earth' of subterranean caverns supporting an endless ribbon of traffic. The Loop's forest of skyscrapers is compacted by the trusses of a moveable bridge. And Chicago's El structure is transformed into an Escher print of infinitely converging steel girders.

'The most exciting part of the process is the time between recognizing the image and capturing it on film, knowing that I've got it. After that it's all work. The excitement returns after the first print is made and I see all the detail and tones. The views are pure form and design with great buildings and a distinct sense of place."

As abstracted as some of his photographs can appear, those who know the city find his images instantly recognizable as Chicago. In a place so often reduced to the iconic views the world has come to expect. Darris Lee Harris has found deeper layers to express the city he's adopted for his muse.

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Link to Darris Lee Harris's Web site  
Link to Foto Chicago  
Link to Secret Cities: Extraordinary Urban Photography  
Link to Powerhouse: The Photography of Darris Lee Harris  

David Jameson
ArchiTech Gallery
730 North Franklin suite 200
Chicago, IL 60654

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