Alex Harris was born in 1949 in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the South. He attended Phillips Andover Academy and Yale University. After graduation from Yale in 1971, he photographed in North Carolina as part of a Duke University research project. In 1972 he began a collaboration with Dr. Robert Coles that would result in six years of photographic work in New Mexico and Alaska and in the publication of two books with Coles: The Old Ones of New Mexico (1973 UNM Press), and The Last and First Eskimos, (1978 New York Graphic Society).

During these years, while continuing to live and photograph in northern New Mexico villages, Harris began to commute to North Carolina to teach documentary photography at Duke University. In 1980 he founded the Center for Documentary Photography at Duke which he directed for eight years. Subsequently he became a founding member of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke and is currently a Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Studies at Duke. His research interests include aging in America, Hispanic culture in New Mexico and the Southwest, and documentary work as it relates to humanitarian issues. In the Hart Leadership Program, Harris teaches courses that explore the role of documentary work around social issues and diverse communities. In 1999, Harris was awarded a grant by Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology to use the Web in his PPS176 “American Communities: A Documentary Approach” course.

River of Traps (1990 UNM Press), his book with writer William DeBuys, was a 1991 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction. His next, Red White Blue and God Bless You, was published in 1992 by UNM Press in association with a national traveling exhibition that opened at the International Center of Photography in New York City in 1994. A selection of Harris’s photographs was published in 1998 in Old and On Their Own (W.W. Norton) with text by Robert Coles and additional photographs by Thomas Roma. As an editor, Harris has published: Gertrude Blom: Bearing Witness (UNC Press 1982) with Margaret Sartor, A World Unsuspected: Portraits of Southern Childhood (1985 UNC Press), In The Streets by Helen Levitt (1988 Duke University Press), Beyond the Barricades: Popular Resistance in South Africa (Aperture 1989), and A New Life: Stories and Photographs from the Suburban South (Norton 1996). Airport, a book of photographs by Gary Winogrand that Harris edited with Lee Friedlander will be published by DAP in the fall of 2000. In 1995 With Robert Coles, Harris launched a new national magazine Double Take, and worked with Coles as co-editor through March of 1998.

With colleagues at the International Center of Photography in New York, Harris has curated a number of international traveling exhibitions. His own photographs are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Addison Gallery of Contemporary Art, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography, a N.C. Visual Artist Fellowship from the NEA, and a Lyndhurst Award. Harris is married to Margaret Sartor and they have a son and a daughter.