Did that image just change as you walked beside it? Look again. Yes, it did. Like our ever-shifting visual experience of the world, Howard Harris’s dimensional photo- graphic constructions merge aesthetics and technology to produce an intriguing new way of experiencing photographic art—with depth and the appearance of subtle differences from one moment to the next. Harris’s creations simulate the way we see. They mimic the complex process of perception by engaging the eyes, mind, and emotions in an intricate dance whose other partners are the changing light, our angle of view, and the space in which the work exists. The result is photographic art as you’ve never seen it before.
Harris has long been fascinated by both visual perception and design. The Denver native earned a BFA fromKansas City Art Institute and worked in architectural design and space planning before enrolling in Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. There he received a Master of Industrial Design, studying with internationally renowned design theorist Rowena Reed Kostellow. Countless hours of exercises in three-dimensional form and relationship helped integrate Harris’s strong structural inclination with an intuitive, non-linear approach. Exposure to the work of Op artists Julian Stanczak, Yaacov Agam, and Josef Albers, as well as sculptors such as Henry Moore, reinforced his interest in the ways two- and three-dimensional art can trigger unexpected perceptual shifts.
In 1975 Harris returned to Denver, where he spent more than 35 years combining design and technology in the field of direct marketing. Along the way he added to his repertoire with further study in economics, computer sciences, marketing, and graphic arts financial management, and earned prestigious professional awards. His creative energy during this period was in the service of other individuals and companies, but after retiring he turned his attention to his own fine art. This took the form of photography, a lifelong passion. Yet with an iconoclastic streak that had seen him consistently forging new directions in the design and business world, he was bound to approach the photographic image in an unconventional way as well.
Harris’s dimensional photographic constructions begin with whatever catches his eye—from the landscape and wildlife to the human figure to urban structures as simple as a multi-storied parking garage. Always musing on how the mind responds in a non-linear, multi-dimensional manner to what it encounters, the artist uses technology to alter the image to varying degrees. Some remain relatively straightforward while others move into the non-objective realm in which thoughts and emotions are suggested through intense color and dynamic line and form. Each photographic image is then superimposed on a subtle grid structure and mounted twice, effectively on top of itself, on two of the construction’s clear acrylic surfaces.
Because the viewer is looking through multiple surfaces—between four and six, with space between each acrylic layer—refraction causes the light to bend, changing the appearance of the image ever so slightly. Occasionally Harris prints the photograph on aluminum, which bends light in a different way. In addition, he sometimes prints one version of the image larger or smaller than the other, or offsets the two images, contributing to a sense of dimensionality and optical interest. His work has been exhibited in solo and juried shows around the country, and his distinctive mounting system currently has a U.S. patent pending. Limited editions of each photographic image can be created in various sizes.
The philosophical ground beneath Harris’s work draws in part from his study of quantum physics and chaos theory, in particular the proposition that the observer always affects what is being observed. With a minor in Eastern philosophy from Pratt, the artist also finds himself influenced by the Eastern perspective in which reason and logic take a backseat to the more spontaneous emergence of form. At the same time, an inherent need for structural organisation is expressed in the faint grid pattern underlying each work. “I’m looking at how to achieve a level of unpredictability and aesthetic value that is pleasing,” he says. “It’s like being a conductor of free-form jazz.