10 minutes with Naomi Harris

Interviews with Photographers March 5, 2012 8:13 am

When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?

I was studying print making at university up in Canada and in my 3rd year I took a photo class since much of my print making work was photo based and I was appropriating existing imagery so figured it would be a good idea to know how to take my own photographs. That summer I went to Europe for nearly a month and took photos wherever I was. The act of taking photos allowed me to go up to complete strangers and talk to them under the disguise of being a photographer (in actuality I’m actually a very snoopy person). When I got home and saw my contact sheets I was like “oh yeah, this is what I want to do when I grow up.” Besides, I couldn’t possibly imagine making a living as a print maker.

 

22-year old Bailey Jay/2011 AVN Transsexual Performer of the year/Los Angeles, CA/February 2011/shot for Bizarre Magazine - Naomi Harris

Jorma Taccona/SNL Writer and Funny Man/New York,NY/March 2009/shot for Complex Magazine - Naomi Harris

Vaniity/Transexual Porn Actress/Los Angeles, CA/February 2011/shot for Bizarre Magazine - Naomi Harris

Marching Band Couple/Victoria Day Parade/Victoria, BC/May 2011/from the "Oh Canada" series - Naomi Harris

Dick Chibbles as Chewbacca in "Star Wars XXX"/24-year old porn actress /Los Angeles, CA/May 2011/shot for Bizarre Magazine - Naomi Harris

 

 

If for some reason photography hadn’t worked out, what other field do you think you might have worked in?

I hadn’t really thought much about it, I wasn’t one of those photographers who were like “I got my first camera at 12, I knew all my life I wanted to be a photographer, Diane Arbus was my god.” For me it was more a matter of lucky chance. I was just leaving university and had been accepted to the documentary program at the International Center of Photography. At this point I had been taking photos for just over a year and really didn’t know what it meant to be a photographer, I just had this opportunity to put off real life for another year and move to New York, I wasn’t thinking much beyond that.

 

Cricket Players/Stanley Park/Vancouver, BC/May 2011/from the "Oh Canada" series - Naomi Harris

Roy & Marilynn Elmer/Members of the Board for Spock Days/Vulcan, AB/June 2011/from the "Oh Canada" series - Naomi Harris

Fantasyland Hotel, West Edmonton Mall/Edmonton, AB/June 2011/from the "Oh Canada" series - Naomi Harris

Naomi Harris

Naomi Harris

 

I remember the first promo I got of yours was your photo taken at one of those mall portrait studios. It was fabulous. What have you found to be the best way to get editors and art buyers attention? Do you try to meet face to face and show your book in person when you can?

Ha, glad that my “Glamour Shot” is what stands out in your mind when you think of me! That was for Valentine’s Day, maybe I’ll make another one this year.

I’m a little out of the loop at the moment as I’m just getting my gears grinding after spending much of 2011 up in Canada working mainly on personal work. I am finding that many editors I know have either left the industry or have relocated so I need to reach out all over again and start from square one. I just redid my website since it was in Flash and as witty as I thought it was (it was laid out like a 70s rec room) in the current business climate I think people are less interested in a super design-y website and are more interested in the photos themselves. So I skipped the designers and made it cheap and cheerful with the help of one of my interns on Virb.com

But from asking around I have been told that most mailers get tossed in the trash and bulk email mailers get filtered out and never reach the intended recipient. So what’s a photographer to do? The personal approach I think still works best and I’m lucky that I have a wider network as I guess I’m considered a mid career photographer. I also try to make it a point to let people know when I’m traveling as it’s the perfect reason to shoot them an email and remind them that I’m around and ready to work for them.

I’ve been rep-less for the last four years, the result of bad timing from having left my last rep and then having the economy crash afterwards so I’m searching for one who fits my needs.

Naomi Harris

Valida Carroll/Bosnian DJ/Los Angeles, CA/October 2010/from the "California Dreaming" series - Naomi Harris

Nana Agyapong/Ghanaian Actress and Model/Venice Beach, CA/December 2010/from the "California Dreaming" series - Naomi Harris

Ongina/Filipino Performer and Drag Queen/Los Angeles, CA/December 2010/from the "California Dreaming" series - Naomi Harris

Diego Alione/Argentinian Sylvester Stallone Impersonator and Buddhist/Los Angeles, CA/December 2010/from the "California Dreaming" series - Naomi Harris

 

If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?

Honestly? I would have told myself to get a government job with a nice retirement package so I could retire after 20-25 years and then do my photography while collecting my pension all the while. I don’t want to sound like sour grapes or anything but I’m approaching 39 and while I’m thrilled to have published books, have had exhibitions and the opportunity to travel to amazing places and meet wonderful people thanks to my career, I have no retirement plan whatsover. I didn’t know then that the industry would change so much and make it more difficult to survive. Frankly I’ve given myself a time limit: if by the time I turn 40 I’m not in the place I was hoping to be I will try a different vocation. I love animals and it’s not too late to go back to school to become a vet tech. This is realistic and pragmatic me speaking of course.

 

Dr. Albert Hofmann, 100 years old at home outside of Basel Switzerland, with wife Anita of 72 years. Shot for The Walrus June 11, 2006 - Naomi Harris

Gene Wilder - Naomi Harris

Joan Rivers/Comedienne and Grand Dame/New York, NY/November 2006/shot for Heeb Magazine - Naomi Harris

Tony Little/Fitness Guru and Inventor of The Gazelle/Tampa, FL/December 2008/shot for Details Magazine - Naomi Harris

Cast of FOX's "Raising Hope"/Los Angeles, CA/August 2010/shot for TV Guide Magazine - Naomi Harris

 

Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?

Go into this field with eyes wide open. Yeah it’s fun to take photos but does that need to be your money making source? Perhaps you’d be better off having a day job and taking photos for yourself. Being a starving artist is cute when you’re in your twenties but not so sexy when you’re approaching middle age.

 

(Naomi is based in New York. See more of her work, here)

9 Comments

  • c wahl = big fan of n harris.
    don’t become a vet.

    • Thanks for the comment. I completely agree!! -Kate

    • NAOMI this is Vaniity, in one of your pics ~ You are phenomenal!!! And a great kind hearted soul ~ thanks for a wonderful shoot and article ~ lets do more!!!! LoveOnYa~ Vaniity

    • Wes – Tina,Both Naomi and I are confident that we made the right deiosicn in having you take our family portraits. You did a superb job, and the location you chose was wonderful. And thank you for being patient with us . OK, you two, we got this one, on to the next pose . C’mon, it is time to stop kissing now Sun’s not gonna stay out forever Guys? This photo reminds me of how much I truly love my wife, and of how close we truly are.King Solomon was right, He who finds a wife, finds a good thing, and receives favor from the Lord Prov. 18:22. God has blessed me with a great wife And our family with an excellent photographer.Thank you, Tina.

  • Naomi,

    I love your frankness. And like you I too got caught completely off guard by the advent of digital. I’ve been a working photographer for over 20 years and never planned for the future. I now tell any young photographer – GET A BUSINESS DEGREE FIRST or some other vocation under their belt. Interesting to me that you with so much seemingly success – still not in the financial place you thought you would be. Me too! However, can’t imagine doing anything else and besides I am 62 and still love the craft of my work. Also – similar to you – amazed at what I can get away with…the info I can learn about complete strangers just because I am a photographer. Anyway – loved reading your blog and thoroughly enjoy your work.

  • Thanks for posting this interview! I received Naomi’s book America Swings for Valentine’s Day & became an instant fan!

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