Two years after graduating from Sarah Lawrence, photographer H Harrison ’06 had a light-bulb moment while submitting his black-and-white images to various galleries. He noticed something peculiar: his artist statements were becoming longer and longer, concerned more with the legal issues around artistic expression than with the art itself.
“I remember thinking, Maybe this is a sign,” says Harrison.
Harrison’s interest in freedom of expression began when he was working on ”Public/Private Spaces,” a collection of black-and-white images depicting Manhattan hotel lobbies, a project that had started as his senior thesis. When asked for permission to photograph the lobbies, the hotels sometimes refused to participate, claiming it was illegal or a post-9/11 security risk. And even when the hotels agreed, they would present Harrison with lengthy, confusing contracts that restricted his use of the images. These responses raised questions that Harrison, an emerging artist, hadn’t ever considered—what were the boundaries of his own artistic expression?
Harrison read books, talked to family friends who practiced law, and scoured artists’ forums online. He soon discovered that the dialogue between artists and the law was even more engaging than the process of making art itself.
Eventually, he began to appreciate the contracts with the hotels, because they gave him an opportunity to state explicitly his ownership and use of the photographs. But only when he took note of his own artist statements did he envision another path: law school. Last fall he enrolled at the Northeastern University School of Law, where he is deepening his knowledge of artists’ rights and intellectual property.
“At Sarah Lawrence, I was able to use art as my guidepost in every class—even math,” says Harrison. That hasn’t changed in graduate school: “Law is another one of these places that is informing my art.”
While Harrison is keeping an open mind in terms of future plans, he sees himself working directly with artists, helping them understand their legal rights.
And he continues making his own art. Harrison has declared “Public/Private Spaces” a completed body of work, but he’s still pursuing photography.
“I get darkroom access at school, which is pretty great.”
by Suzanne Guillette MFA ‘05