Children: From The Heart (Barefoot Publishing $54)
When photographer Peter Paul Harnisch was in San Salvador in 1992, he saw several young boys spraying gasoline from their mouths and setting it on fire.
At a busy intersection, the boys would gulp, spit and light, while friends and family members approached motorists stopped at red lights to ask for money.
After four straight ignites, one of the young boys stopped, saying, “It's not good for my teeth.” A neon sign with the words El mundo feliz (it's a happy world) shone from a fairground across the street.
The young fire spewer in Harnisch's Children: From The Heart (Barefoot Publishing $54) is one of 118 images documenting the lives of children in Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica and Canada, from the nursery to the ballet stage.
Many photographs capture joy and humour. In 'The Watermelon Thief', a Salvadoran child with a cheeky grin has a large belly, not because he is malnourished but because he is overfed. The town's little food thief is grinning because the photographer has watched the boy inch towards another child's watermelon. (After the photo was taken, the watermelon thief made his move.)
Harnisch also introduces Max, a bald headed boy in a Mexico City cancer hospice, who playfully rolled a white marble across the floor to get the photographer's attention. Every morning Max and the other children travelled by bus for four hours of chemotherapy. On their return each afternoon, they were in remarkably good spirits.
“Chemotherapy seemed only like an intrusion on potential play time,” says Harnisch. “Children are resilient. How quickly they cope and bounce back from adversity.”
All proceeds from Harnisch's self published work are being donated to 11 child welfare organizations including B.C. Children's Hospital, the Canuck Foundation, the Vancouver Native Health Society and the Variety Club of B.C.
“Children are the most vulnerable in society and subject to being victims more than anybody else,” says Harnisch, father of six year old Benjamin. “And they need society to take care of them. I've always felt that because I make my living from society, from the community, that I should give something back.”
Harnisch's entry into the world of professional photography was accidental — literally. In the early '80s, while saving money to attend law school, Harnisch joined the Vancouver police force. Working as a police officer forced him to see a disturbing side of life that spurred his interest in child and youth welfare.
After a serious motorcycle crash, Harnisch decided to leave the police force. “I'd always loved photography,” he says, “but I had thought it was an art thing — not a career. When I survived the motorcycle accident, I realized that I'd been given a second chance in this life.” He enrolled at Boston's Hallmark Institute of Photography, graduating in 1986 with top honours.
Harnisch is currently working on a new series of photographs documenting First Nations people, partly inspired by Howard Adams' Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View. “It's just an amazing book,” he says. “Adams points out so many things that people just don't think about. We are still very much a racist society toward Native peoples, despite what everyone thinks.”
Harnisch has art contacts in Prague and Zurich where he plans to first show his new works. “Europeans, as well as Canadians, still believe the stereotypic images of First Nations people,” he says. “My pieces will focus on shattering these images and opening peoples minds to the realities of Native life.”
Harnisch's Children: From the Heart is 'livicated' to children. “In Rastafarian speech,” he says, “the negative word/sound 'dead' in 'dedicate' is restructured to a more life affirming word/sound, livicate. I couldn't agree more.”