After stepping over the clutter of photographs and albums, Walter Harris opened a door that lead to a small room. He hit the light switch.
The photographs, most of them shots of happy brides and grooms, lined the walls of the room. The 25,000 shots, which made up the collage, featured brides and grooms cutting the cake, kissing and saying vows. Harris has been working on this collage for 35 years, almost as long as he has been at his shop on South Dixie Highway. Now, it’s being taken down.
“That’s what I always did [create collages]; sometimes, I would put the pictures together and cover them in resin [to preserve the collage],” he said.
Harris explained that the building is being sold, and that the space to where he is moving to is too small to put the collage back up.
He stumbled on photography after working as a lawyer in Miami. He knew he had an eye for pictures.
“One day, I was driving home from work … the sun was setting and the light was hitting people’s faces. Everyone looked miserable, and I thought, ‘Am I one of them, one of these people who are miserable at the end of the day?' I realized that I was,” said Harris.
Harris, who was also a painter at this time, considered focusing on that art, but realized that he would never be able to give up a painting someone liked, because “if they liked it, it must have been good and I would like it too,” he said. With photography, he could make more than one print and give them away as he pleased.
While working as a lawyer for Miami’s Community Newspapers, Harris convinced the publisher to give him some office space so that he could work on his photography. Before then, Harris was working out of his apartment, which wasn’t the most ideal condition.
“I flooded the apartment. I would leave my prints washing in the tub and go out to the movies. When I would come back I would notice the rug was soaking and I’d run to turn the water off, but it would be too late,” he said. “The first time they [his downstairs neighbors] forgave me, the second time they evicted me.”
Harris opened his shop in 1972, and in 1973, he began work on his collage. There were times when he had to live off of donations, and free food from Oak Feed Natural Food Market.
His philosophy is that photos should be memorable moments, he said. He will take standard portraits, but often times encourages people to make goofy, strange faces to add more personality to the photograph.
“I once had a family jump in the pool, not in bathing suits but fully dressed, and took pictures of them while they remained completely serious,” he said. He later took pictures of the family laughing as they came out of the pool.
Harris describes himself as “into life.” He says that he found his strongest vision now as he is starting to take shots with a focus on maternity. There isn’t a moment where mother and child have a stronger relationship, he said. The mother may look back on this and it will soften her heart, but the child, the child won’t really care, he said laughing.
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Harris is proud of the fact that he has been able to take photographs of some of his clients since they were two years old. Some of the pictures in the collage are second-generation and even third-generation marriages, the marriages of the sons and daughters of those who were already featured in the collage.
He plans on having a party with close friends to take down the collage. The collage will be boxed up and taken to the new store at 9990 SW 77th Ave, but it will remain stored away.
“I don’t have any in-progress shots [of putting the collage together]. It’s only now that I have to take it down that I realize what it meant to me. I didn’t really care when I was putting it up,” he said. “Now, it has taken a life of its own.”