Los Angeles-based Mark Edward Harris is an award-winning international photographer with more than three decades of experience. He has traveled to over 100 countries so far, authored and published award-winning books focused on daily cultural life in Southeast Asia, China, North Korea, Japan, Iraq and Iran. His photography work is being exhibited in impressive private collections, museums, and galleries around the globe. His editorial work has appeared in the most important publications worldwide, including The New York Times, The London Times Travel Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Forbes, LIFE, Vanity Fair, GEO, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and many others.
Harris is also the recipient of numerous awards including a CLIO Award for advertising photography, an Aurora Gold Award for commercial directing, and an ACE Award for directing and producing a video for television. Harris shares his photographic knowledge through teaching photography workshops around the globe.
In 2012, he was a keynote speaker in Yokohama at the International Travel Mart, presenting his series on Japanese ryokans and hot springs In the wake of the country's tsunami and at the Travel Photography Festival at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
In 2013 his first book on South Korea and his second book on North Korea were released with a book tour including stops at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Korea Society in New York, and the Newseum in Washington, DC. North Korea was named Photography Book of the Year at the International Photography Awards. In 2017 Focal Press published, The Travel Photo Essay: Describing a Journey Through Images. A 3rd edition of The Way of the Japanese Bath was released in 2019. Mark's next book, The People of the Forest, will focus on orangutans. It is a great pleasure to interview one of the most influential photographers in the world!
José Jeuland: Many thanks, Mark, for your time and effort to have an interview with Lens Magazine. It's a pleasure to feature your magnificent work. You are considered by many as one of the most influential photographers of our generation documenting unique cultural life and events, such as the series Japanese Tsunami, featured here. How does it make you feel when you hear people describe you as one of the most influential photographers of our generation?
Mark Edward Harris: I'm not sure I deserve that high compliment, but the words are very much appreciated. I feel that many of the projects I do are an effort to put a human face on issues worldwide. Too often, I see people grouped en masse in the political arena as well as the media, and it's essential to see them as individuals. I'm honored when publications such as Lens Magazine help me get the word out, that in essence, we're all the same. In my series on a fellow great ape, orangutans, my goal is to help bring attention to the serious issues they face in the wild due to habitat destruction in their native Borneo and Sumatra. Humans and orangutans share about 97 percent of the same DNA, and in the portrait part of the series, I hope to convey these highly sentient beings' individuality.
J. J.: Back in the 80's you graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a Master of Arts Degree in Pictorial/Documentary History and started your career as a professional photographer. Looking back at your academic study, would you say it's a must for photographers to have educational experience for having a successful career?
M. E. H.: Education comes in many ways. For some, such as my friends Sandro Miller and Joey Lawrence, who goes by Joey L, that education comes from an incredible amount of street knowledge. Others, such as Sebastiao Salgado, have a formal education that very much informs their work. And that education is not necessarily in studying photography. In Salgado's case, his study of economics is shown in the types of long-term projects he takes on.
The more depth we have as individuals, the more depth we will have in our photographs. There are many paths to get to the same place. I think assisting other photographers is extremely helpful in learning the tools of trade and better understanding the photography business.
J. J.: Your experience during the past three decades moves from travel photography, documentary, wildlife, advertising photography to even a television director. This is unique and unusual; most photographers focus only on one field, but you also succeed significantly in each area, receiving international awards. What led you to move and develop in each of these fields?
M. E. H.: I'm very much driven by instinct rather than economics. If something feels right, I will often pursue it. Some projects take hold while others feel like it might be best to shelve them. Photographers such as Jeanloup Sieffnever let themselves be cubbyholed into a single genre. I do recognize that it can be confusing for photo editors or art directors when they're selecting a photographer for an assignment to see a variety pack of images. Hence, I carefully divide my website into different categories as well as presenting a few of the same types of images at a time on Instagram. Therefore, there's a sense of cohesion. In terms of genres, documentary photography is definitely on the top of my list because of my endless fascination with history.
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