Harry Callahan

(Detroit, Michigan, 1912 - 1999, Atlanta, Georgia)

North America, American

Self-taught, Harry Callahan began taking photographs as a hobby at age twenty-six but went on to become one of the most influential American artists and teachers of the medium. Acknowledged for his innovative contributions to the development of art photography, Callahan spent six decades examining the camera’s formal and expressive possibilities.

Eschewing dramatic subject matter in favor of more banal subjects and scenes, he succeeded in teasing out and uncovering the beauty in the everyday with his lucid, unsentimental vision. Much of Callahan’s photography captured scenes from his personal life and experience. Three themes dominate his art: his wife, Eleanor; urban life and architecture; and the natural landscape. Callahan used Eleanor to represent woman as beloved, mother and symbol of nature. Sensual and adoring but rarely idealizing, his images of her body adhered to Callahan’s belief in the camera’s role as a recorder of fact.

When shooting urban and natural environments, the artist freely experimented with abstraction and in-camera manipulation, particularly multiple exposures. City life is shown to be crowded and hectic yet isolating. Nature is often seen close up, so that single stalks against a blank background become graphic rather than documentary images. In such works Callahan, like many painters of his time, acknowledges the flatness of the surface on which the image appears.

Harry Callahan left behind 100,000 negatives and over 10,000 proof prints. The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona maintains Callahan’s photographic archives. His work has been exhibited extensively throughout the world and is included in such collections as that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, among others. Callahan was awarded the Akron Art Museum’s first Knight Purchase Prize for Photographic Media in 1991.

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