Harry Callahan (Harry Morey Callahan) (October 22, 1912 – March 15, 1999) was an American photographer and educator. He taught at both the Institute of Design in Chicago
and the Rhode Island School of Design. Callahan's first solo exhibition was at the Art Institute of Chicago
in 1951. He had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York in 1976/1977. Callahan was a recipient of the Edward MacDowell Medal and the National Medal of Arts. Along with the painter Richard Diebenkorn, he represented the United States in the Venice Biennale
Harry Callahan was born in Detroit, Michigan. He worked at Chrysler when he was a young man then left the company to study engineering at Michigan State University. He dropped out, returned to Chrysler and joined its camera club. Callahan began teaching himself photography in 1938. He formed a friendship with Todd Webb
who was also to become a photographer. A talk given by Ansel Adams
in 1941 inspired him to take his work seriously. In 1941, Callahan and Webb visited Rocky Mountain State Park but didn't return with any photographs. In 1946 he was invited to teach photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago by László Moholy-Nagy
. He moved to Rhode Island in 1961 to establish a photography program at the Rhode Island School of Design, eventually inviting his close friend and fellow artist Aaron Siskind
to join him, teaching there until his retirement in 1977.
Callahan met his future wife, Eleanor Knapp, on a blind date in 1933. At that time she was a secretary at Chrysler Motors in Detroit and he was a clerk. They married three years later. In 1950 their daughter Barbara was born. Callahan died in Atlanta in 1999. His wife Eleanor died on February 28, 2012 in a hospice in Atlanta at the age of 95. Callahan left almost no written records—no diaries, letters, scrapbooks or teaching notes. His technical photographic method was to go out almost every morning, walk through the city he lived in and take numerous pictures. He then spent almost every afternoon making proof prints of that day's best negatives. Yet, for all his photographic activity, Callahan, at his own estimation, produced no more than half a dozen final images a year. He photographed his wife and daughter and the streets, scenes and buildings of cities where he lived, showing a strong sense of line and form, and light and darkness. Even prior to birth, his daughter showed up in photographs of Eleanor's pregnancy. From 1948 to 1953 Eleanor, and sometimes Barbara, were shown out in the landscape as a tiny counterpoint to large expanses of park, skyline or water.
He also worked with multiple exposures. Callahan's work was a deeply personal response to his own life. He encouraged his students to turn their cameras on their own lives, leading by example. Callahan photographed his wife over a period of fifteen years, as his prime subject. Eleanor was essential to his art from 1947 to 1960. He photographed her everywhere—at home, in the city streets, in the landscape; alone, with their daughter, in black and white and in color, nude and clothed, distant and close. He tried several technical experiments—double and triple exposure, blurs, large and small format film.
Callahan was one of the few innovators of modern American photography noted as much for his work in color as for his work in black and white. In 1955 Edward Steichen
included his work in The Family of Man
, MoMA's popular international touring exhibition.
In 1956, he received the Graham Foundation Award, which allowed him to spend a year in France with his family from 1957 to 1958. He settled in Aix-en-Provence, where he took many photographs. In 1994, he selected 130 original prints with the help of the gallery owner Peter MacGill, and brought them together under the name of French Archives, to offer them to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie
in Paris. Some of these images were taken in Aix-en-Provence and in the South of France, and are the subject of a temporary exhibition at the Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence in 2019.
Callahan left behind 100,000 negatives and over 10,000 proof prints. The Center for Creative Photography
at the University of Arizona maintains his photographic archives. In 2013, Vancouver Art Gallery received a gift of almost 600 Callahan photographs from the Larry and Cookie Rossy Family Foundation.
Harry Callahan has won many awards for his photography, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972 and the Photographer and Educator Award from the Society for Photographic Education in 1976, and he was designated Honored Photographer of the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie
in Arles, France in 1977, and received ICP
's Master of Photography Infinity Award in 1991. Among the major exhibitions of his work were Photographs of Harry Callahan and Robert Frank
(1962), one of the last shows curated by Edward Steichen
at the Museum of Modern Art, and retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art (1976) and at the National Gallery
in Washington, DC (1996).
Callahan was widely respected in the photography community for his open mind and experimental attitude, qualities reinforced by his association with Moholy-Nagy and the principles of Bauhaus design. He produced work in both formalist and more documentary modes and worked in both black-and-white and color. He used a 35-millimeter and an 8x10 camera and worked with multiple exposures as well as straight images. Such versatility contributed to his success as a teacher, his students ranging widely in style--among them Ray K. Metzker
, Emmet Gowin
, Kenneth Josephson
, and Bill Burke
Source: International Center of Photography