Harry Callahan (1912-1999)

I watched the 1981 interview of Callahan by Barbaralee Diamonstein in the series ‘Visions and Images’ (1). From the interview, I got the following information.

Whilst working at Chrysler in Detroit Michigan he joined the camera club in 1941. It was there that he met Ansel Adams who conducted a workshop. Callahan states that it wasn’t Adams’ famous landscape photographs that inspired him but it was the close-up photos of the ground that provided inspiration. They made him feel as though he could shoot anything.

After the war, he had saved enough cash to allow him and his wife to take an eight-month photography trip to New York. There he met Stieglitz, Bernice Abbott, Paul Strand, Lisette Model, and Beaumont and Nancy Newhall.

In 1946 Callahan was invited by Arthur Siegel to teach at the Institute of Design in Chicago (founded in 1937 by László Moholy-Nagy and formerly known as the New Bauhaus). In 1961 he joined RISD where he worked until his retirement in 1977.

From watching the video I learned two other interesting pieces of information. Callahan says he could never be a commercial photographer because it could take him up to a year to get a simple photograph to the standard he requires. And he also informs us that he didn’t specialise because he gets bored and would need to change the subject or equipment.

Multiple exposure images

These images, all featuring Callahan’s wife Eleanor, were taken on film (obviously!) and in-camera.

Callahan. Eleanor (1951)
Callahan. Eleanor, Detroit (1942)
Callahan. Eleanor, Chicago (1954)

My favourite Callahan image

So what do I like about this image? The words I would use are etherial, mysterious, surreal, two value notan. The look is obtained by over-exposing the image and blowing the focus.

Callahan. Eleanor and Babara, Chicago (1953)

Here is my version of that shot.

Gill and Aud


(1) Callahan, H., 1981. Visions And Images: Harry Callahan, 1981. [online] DukeLibDigitalColl. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LhYs5eq5nw> [Accessed 7 April 2020].

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