When Annandale-based photographer Jerry Harke was 20 years old, he stumbled upon his artistic destiny: a naked woman.
It was 1969, and Harke—then an undergraduate at Oklahoma Panhandle State University—had met a fellow student who fancied himself a photographer and agreed to take Harke under his wing. “[He] didn’t tell me that he was taking photos of co-eds on the side,” Harke says. “I discovered that one day when I walked into his studio and heard a female giggle in the back.…Sure enough, he was doing a photo shoot with a co-ed. She was topless. I said to myself, ‘Oh, this is wonderful.’”
The story might sound like the setup of a soft-core porn flick, but for Harke, it had the makings of fine art. Nearly 40 years later, Jerry Harke is still photographing naked women. He photographs naked women hanging from rafters, naked women pushing strollers, naked women perched on horses, naked women stretched catlike on boulders and branches. Harke’s lens captures images that are angular, black-and-white forms and ones featuring bubbly, cheetah-printed lingerie models, but one thing remains the same: It’s all about the female form.
“Has my interest always been in women?” muses Harke, now 59. “Oh, yeah. For a very long time.”
Harke enjoyed a lengthy military career in public affairs, including a 10-year stint in the Pentagon, all while carving his artistic livelihood out of a fascination with female anatomy and how it “pictures in photography as well as paintings.”
It’s not just a wandering eye: He launched his own commercial and fine-art photography business, continues to show his work locally, and has published two books of photos. Currently, eight of Harke’s nudes are on display at Georgetown’s MOCA DC gallery; the show, “Classic Photo Art in Black and White,” runs through Sept. 1.
Harke’s black-and-white nudes are a far cry from his early works depicting college women in the heat of sexual revolution. “During a photo shoot, it’s all about the technical aspects. It’s about the lighting, it’s about the aperture setting, the shutter speed,” Harke says. “It’s not until after the photo shoot, when I start looking at the photos and getting on my computer and start working on them, that I begin to think: OK, now that is one fine body!”
He used to notice that sooner in the process.
“Golly, when you’re a young guy and you’re seeing the most beautiful co-eds you can imagine without their clothes on, the word ‘awesome’ comes to mind,” Harke says. “Of course, [I was] extremely bashful…about what to say to the model when I wanted her to adjust her arms or legs. Typically, I don’t hesitate one moment now to say, ‘Hey, lift your boobs up!’” “Classic Photo Art in Black and White” is on view from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, to Saturday, Sept. 1, at MOCA DC, 1054 31st St. NW. Free. (202) 342-6230.