Harry Callahan (photographer)

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Harry Callahan

Harry Morey Callahan (October 22, 1912 – March 15, 1999) was an American photographer.

Early life[edit]

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.[1] Callahan began teaching himself photography in 1938. He formed a friendship with Todd Webb who was also to become a photographer.[2] 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.[2] 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, teaching there until his retirement in 1977.[citation needed]


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.[3] In 1955 Edward Steichen included his work in The Family of Man, MoMA's popular international touring exhibition.

In 1996, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[4]


  • Harry Callahan. New York: Museum Of Modern Art, 1967. OCLC 283359742. With an introductory essay by Paul Sherman.
  • Harry Callahan: Color: 1941–1980. Providence, R.I.: Matrix Publications, 1980. Edited by Robert Tow and Ricker Winsor. ISBN 978-0936554006. With a foreword by Jonathan Williams and an afterword by A. D. Coleman.
  • Water's Edge. Lyme, CN: Callaway, 1980. ISBN 9780935112016. With an introductory poem by A. R. Ammons and an afterword by Callahan.
  • Eleanor. New York City: Callaway, 1984. ISBN 978-0935112115.
  • Harry Callahan: New Color: Photographs 1978-1987. Kansas City, MO: Hallmark Cards, 1988. ISBN 978-0875296241. Edited(?) and with text by Keith F. Davis. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Harry Callahan. Masters of Photography. New York: Aperture, 1999. ISBN 978-0893818210. With an essay by Jonathan Williams.
  • Harry Callahan: Retrospective. Heidelberg, Germany: Kehrer, 2013. ISBN 978-3868283587. With essays by Dirk Luckow, Peter MacGill, Sabine Schnakenberg, and Julian Cox. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Harry Callahan: Photos. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1996. ISBN 978-0821223130. With text by Sarah Greenough. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Seven Collages. Göttingen: Steidl, 2012. ISBN 978-3869301402. With an essay by Julian Cox.
  • Harry Callahan: The Street. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2016. Curated and edited by Grant Arnold. ISBN 978-1910433584. Exhibition catalogue.


Personal life[edit]

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.[1]

Callahan died in Atlanta in 1999. He left behind 100,000 negatives and over 10,000 proof prints. The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, which actively collects, preserves and makes available individual works by 20th-century North American photographers, maintains his photographic archives. His estate is represented in New York City by the Pace/MacGill Gallery. His wife Eleanor died on February 28, 2012 in a hospice in Atlanta at the age of 95.[1] In 2013, the Vancouver Art Gallery received the extraordinary gift of almost 600 Callahan photographs from the Larry and Cookie Rossy Family Foundation.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Suzanne Muchnic (2012). "Eleanor Callahan dies at 95; subject of photos by husband, Harry". Los-Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  2. ^ a b staff writer (April 22, 2000). "Todd Webb, 94, Peripatetic Photographer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. 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.
  3. ^ "Harry Callahan Biography". BookRags. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  4. ^ "Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  5. ^ "Medal Day History". MacDowell Colony. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  6. ^ "MacDowell Medal winners 1960-2011". London: The Daily Telegraph. 13 April 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2015.

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