There is a profound stillness in Carla Jay Harris’ photographs—her framing and shooting style emits a pervasive calm that quiets the anxiety of her subject matter. Harris’ ability to create silence amid moments of emotional upheaval is eerie, tense, and evocative. Two bodies of work portray people and places in the midst of economic and cultural change; Dirt, Dust, Sand, Concrete (2012–2015) shows Smithfield, Virginia, amid a corporate buyout, and Culture of Desperation (2012) portrays a struggling record company during lean times.
Carolyn (2012) is part of the Dirt, Dust, Sand, Concrete series that creates a photographic essay of Smithfield, Virginia, and its residents. (The artist was born and raised in Smithfield, and much of her family still lives there.) The town’s only industrial engine, Smithfield Foods, was bought out by a Chinese conglomerate. The subject of Carolyn, a woman well into the later stages of her middle age, presumably named Carolyn, glances sidelong, not into but at the camera, from a slightly elevated position while sitting on her elegant wood-framed and needlework patterned couch. With the smallest hint of a knowing smile, mixed with the benevolent skepticism of an old friend or family member, she rests with neatly cut and straightened hair and her sturdy arms folded.