T/5 in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co C
Born 1925 in NY, Died 2016
County of residence at enlistment: New York County, NY
Other residence(s): Rockland County, NY
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: commercial artists
College education before the war: Pratt 1 year
NOTE: "Ned" is the name used in his birth record, in his draft and enlistment records, in all the census records, and in his obituary.
Ned Harris was born on May 19, 1925 in the Bronx, NY, the younger of two sons. His mother had emigrated from Russia and his father from England (and his parents from Russia). His father was working as a cigar maker in 1930, but by 1940 had found a job with the WPA.
Ned credits his discovery of photography as a medium to his experiences at the NY Worlds' Fair in 1939. His high school years were "a time when you could go by train or bus for ten cents into the heart of New York with a new Kodak Baby Brown camera."
He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, a boys' public high school in the Bronx, at the age of 16, and went to work in the proverbial mailroom at Helena Rubinstein, taking art classes at Pratt at night. (Much later he would go on to design perfume bottles for Helena Rubinstein, as well as to help curate Ms. Rubinstein's personal art collection.)
Ned registered for the draft on May 25, 1943 and enlisted two months later. At the time of his enlistment, he stated that his profession was commercial artist, and that he had completed one year of college. Like many of his fellow Pratt students, he found his way into the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion. He served as an assistant truck driver and recalled that he grew "very fond" of his two-and-a-half ton truck. The driver of the truck was George Diestel, who later became an actor and set designer in Hollywood. In the very cold winter of 1944-45, Ned found a pot-bellied stove which he installed in the back of his truck; it kept him and his fellow soldiers warm until an officer told him it was against regulations and made him get rid of it.
Ned also found a German grenade case that he used as a container for all his art material: paper and ink and paints "and whatever I found as I went along." Rick Beyer, in The Ghost Army of World War II, quotes Ned describing the case: "And then my finished drawings went in there. So it was a receptacle for death, and I was bringing these lively drawings to fill it up."
The Ghost Army provided a real art education for the young soldier, who was only 20 at war's end. For one thing, he learned how to use watercolors from Arthur Singer, who was already a working illustrator. "I learned more about who I was as an artist and . . . my craft by being there rather than even at school, and it continued till the end."
In a 2011 interview, he recalled that "the Army days were incredible. I went to war with a brush in one hand and a gun in the other. I never fired a shot out of the gun but kept the brush working." A number of Ned's wartime sketches and watercolors from that period appear in The Ghost Army of World War II.
After the war, Ned and a colleague, Bob Wallack, founded a Manhattan package design and graphic arts firm, and, according to his obituary, "he created many iconic package designs for major cosmetic labels, such as Helena Rubinstein, Estée Lauder, Avon, Frances Denney, and Revlon."
In 1954, Ned married Sarah Lelchuck, and they would go to have four children: Mitchell, Clifford, Bryan, and Felicia.
Ned described himself as a painter first, but said that he started taking the camera seriously in 1955. In a 2012 interview he explained the importance of the city of New York in his photography: "The city and its museums still remain the heart of my photography collection. . . . I have always lived near the Hudson River and have a love for this river, just like Mark Twain loved the Mississippi." His obituary continues the story: "Ned's eye and camera caught the irony and humor in everyday life. . . . In his black and white street photography he captured the social upheavals of New York in the 1960s, and he embraced digital photography and techniques in the 21st century."
He was the 1974 author of a photography book, Form and Texture: A Photographic Portfolio, which continues to inspire teachers and students.
Later in life he turned his attention to exhibitions. He was a longtime board member and chairman of the exhibition committee at Rockland Center for the Arts (RoCA) in West Nyack, NY, near his Rockland County home in New City, NY. He filled this role for 14 years, conceiving and curating numerous exhibitions including several of his own work.
In a 2011 interview, Julianne Ramos, executive director of RoCA, had this to say about Ned's photography: "As a photographer, Ned sees what the rest of us seem to miss. His photos are both ironic and iconic, filled with great wit and charm and color, just like Ned himself."
In addition to showing his work at many solo exhibitions (from the 1960s on) at galleries in NY and Washington, DC, Ned lectured on photography at the Visual Arts Center in New York, the Slivka Center at Yale, the SoHo Photo Gallery in New York, the Brown/RISD Gallery in Providence, and the Parsons School of Design in New York.
Ned died on March 28, 2016 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Saddle Brook, NJ.
1925 birth record
1943 draft card
1943 enlistment record
1954 marriage record
2011 article in the Journal News (White Plains NY); lots of biographic detail and great quotes
2012 (?) article in Apogee Photo Magazine about his photography (date posted is 2016 but headline indicates Harris was 87)
2016 obituary in the Journal News (White Plains NY)
2016 Find a Grave record
2016 article in Nyack News and Views re Ghost Army
2016 article in Nyack News and Views about an exhibit of his work
2020 article on Pratt website
Ghost Army website bio info