I lost my father when I was two. He was 36 when polio killed him three days after contracting the disease. He stopped breathing on July 10, 1952. I was two years old and have no memory of him. Growing up, I always felt like an outsider. None of my friends were without Dads.
After my mother’s death, I discovered a secret trove of documents: photographs, personal papers, sermons and even audio tapes of his. Details of my father’s life exploded unfiltered. I heard his voice for the first time, read his papers, and studied his photographs. I learned of his passion for photography and skiing which I share. He even qualified for a private pilots license in 1938. It has been a revelation.
She had stored these artifacts in a large steamer trunk wrapped in newsprint shortly after she remarried in 1959. She needed to look forward, but in so doing denied access of his life’s intimate details from me and my brother. My brother died in 2014 and never saw them.
My mother always spoke of my father as a man of conscience, dedicated to social action, guided by his faith and his love for her. His convictions made him a conscientious objector during the second World War risking his reputation and suffering ridicule and hatred. Assigned to the Civilian Public Service his orders were to administer a hospital and recreation center in the rural mountains of Puerto Rico. After the war he began his studies at Yale Divinity School while serving as Pastor of the Congregational church in East Haddam, Connecticut. In June 1952 he received his Bachelor of Divinity degree, took on his new position as Assistant Dean at YDS, and served only four days before his death.
These photographs attempt to express the emotional turmoil of reconstructing my father’s last years of life sixty-seven years later. Creating these images has helped me discover and establish a new relationship with a man I never knew, my father.
Don Harbison’s work interprets contrasting physical and metaphysical worlds. He selects subjects found in natural landscapes and creates deeply personal images representing ‘memory_scapes’. Drawn from a range of raw biographical emotions, his images seek to illustrate the psychological impact of memories including grief, anxiety and peace.
Harbison studied under Nathan and Joan Lyons at the Visual Studies Workshop, then went on to earn his MFA from Rochester Institute of Technology in photography, computer graphics and design.
Harbison managed a computer graphics illustration and animation studio, consulted with Kodak on the early stages of the PhotoCD product. As a Contributing Editor to Computer Artist magazine, he covered the nascent digital photography revolution when it emerged in the early 1990s.
Harbison has exhibited at Colorado College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Whistler House Museum of Art, the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, the Chelmsford Art Society and PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont.
Contact Don Harbison