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North Korean Traffic Officer, photo by Mark Edward Harris

The Rocket Yard Profile: Photographer Mark Edward Harris

This week we are introducing a new series highlighting OWC customers and the amazing work they do. First up is photographer Mark Edward Harris. We spoke with Mark to learn how he got started in the industry, and how he thinks the business has changed over the years. Mark shared that he fell in love with photography as a young child, and how his great passion for it has fueled a very successful career. 

Mark Edward Harris in the Himalayas, photo by Mohan Duwal
Mark Edward Harris in the Himalayas, photo by Mohan Duwal

When was the first time you knew you wanted to do the kind of job you’re doing now?

Mark Edward Harris: I fell in love with photography through family road trips around the U.S. My father would bring his still camera and an 8mm movie camera and, in effect, I was his second unit. I was fascinated by the still camera’s ability to freeze a moment in time. That feeling has never left me. In college, I took my first photography class and experienced the true magic of the medium when an image appeared on the photo paper in the developer. Eventually, I married my love of travel, history—I have a master’s degree in it—and photography and devote my career and my life to this mélange of interests.

How has your industry changed over the years? What’s better? What’s worse?

MEH: When I started, everything was analog and now we are in a digital world. There are so many choices out there in terms of equipment, but the basic ideas are the same. A good photo is still a good photo, and a bad photo is still a bad photo, though some would say that now we have the digital tools to “correct it in post.” I’m definitely old school in that regard. If I didn’t get it, c’est la vie. But I’ve fully embraced the digital world in terms of image capture and output.

I made the conversion in 2005 when I was heading to North Korea for the first of 10 trips there. There was no way I could show up with bags filled with rolls of film and still go in low-key. Plus, by that point, I compared the digital files on the cameras to my 35mm film scans and knew the time had come to go digital. I just took the next step and bought a Nikon Z9 for my project in the Antarctic, and saw the writing on the wall for DSLRs.

With all the digital files I create now, of course, I need secure places to store them. On the road, I carry the 2.0TB OWC Envoy Pro SX. It’s almost unfathomable that I was able to back up my whole Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics shoot in this incredibly demure portable SSD hard drive. Back home I transfer the material to ThunderBay as my archived storage. I always create three backups. 

Tokyo Olympics, Japan, photo by Mark Edward Harris
Tokyo Olympics, Japan, photo by Mark Edward Harris

Tell us a story about a major milestone you had in your career that took it to a new level.

MEH: My first book, Faces of the Twentieth Century: Master Photographers and Their Work, won a number of awards and exposed me to the highest levels of the magazine and publishing world. The book consists of my portraits of twenty influential photographers who truly put a face on the last century. We ran five of their photos and excerpts from my text with them. Among the many greats we featured were Alfred Eisenstaedt, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Gordon Parks, Helmut Newton, Mary Ellen Mark, Annie Leibovitz, Peter Lindbergh, and Herb Ritts.

From there I focused on books on long-term photo essays such as The Way of the Japanese Bath, North Korea, and my latest, The People of the Forest, about orangutans. All have won awards and had exhibitions based on them which have opened up new doors. 

Ginzan Hot Springs, Yamagata, Japan, photo by Mark Edward Harris
Ginzan Hot Springs, Yamagata, Japan, photo by Mark Edward Harris

What advice would you give to people aspiring to be where you are in your business and career—whether they’re just starting, or looking to take it up a notch?

MEH: The key for me is to create bodies of work instead of a bunch of unrelated images—especially if you want to shoot for magazines and have exhibitions and books. Also, I have never waited around for the phone to ring with an assignment. If you believe in a project, scrape the money together and go out and do it. Not everything works out, but it’s usually the things we don’t do that we regret. The key is to get out there and into the arena and not stay on the sidelines of life in whatever you do.

[Header image by Mark Harris]

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