Harry Morey Callahan
|Died||March 15, 1999 (aged 86)|
|Awards||Edward MacDowell Medal |
National Medal of Arts
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. He represented the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1978.
Harry Morey 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 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.
Along with the painter Richard Diebenkorn, he represented the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1978.
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.
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's work is held in the following permanent collections:
Todd Webb, a photographer who documented the everyday life and architecture of New York, Paris and the American West, died last Saturday at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. He was 94 and lived in Auburn, Me.