Boston’s Black history: A profile of photographer Harry Scales

BOSTON — Photographer Harry Scales does his speaking with his camera. His images of Black life in Boston and New York during demonstrations in the movement for Black lives has gained him national recognition.

An image of a young Black man in front of Boston Police Headquarters landed him one of his first professional publications.

“Being a Black person from Boston, having been in the METCO program and going to school outside the city, my identity as a Black person from the city has always been at the forefront of my experience. I’ve always had to kinda defend my position. Legitimize my community and speak for my community,” said Scales.

Scales didn’t always know he wanted to be a photographer. Growing up in Codman Square, Harry Franklin Scales III, or ‘Little Harry’ was into sports.

“I was in sports all-year-round for a lot of my life. But for a large part of my life, I was really into drawing. I spent a lot of my free time drawing, sketching, painting. And then when I got to high school I kind of did away with that. It wasn’t cool enough. I was more focused on the sports,” said Scales.

In college, Scales changed focus and changed his life. This summer he and his camera were at the center of some of the most heated moments of the protests in Boston. Scales tells me fighting inside a social movement is hard, and documenting it takes its toll.

“When you’re in the middle of something, you don’t necessarily understand the toll it’s taking on you. But in retrospect, when you have some time, you start to ask those questions. Why am I feeling this way or acting this way? Where was I before this?”

Scales most recent project, The Clover’s Shadow, explores Boston’s neighborhoods of color with a backdrop of its recognized Irish identity.

Scales works almost exclusively in black and white.

“I always tell my peers, I don’t see color. I always see in black and white. What I mean by that, is I’m not really thinking about color and making Images. I’m more so thinking about line and form and then the actual content of the situation.

I asked him about one particular photo and what he was trying to capture in the lines, shapes, and movement. “The Black experience in America is always at the forefront of my mind,” he answered.

To see more of Harry Scales’ work, click here.