Research Code Key
[E] Explanation [O] Opinion [W] Website [R] Further Research [Q] Quotation [U] Useful [!] Critical
[X] Exhibition [T] Timeline [I] Important [>] Indent
[P] Photograph [B] Book To Read



[Q] “It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see. Wanting to see more makes you grow as a person and growing makes you want to show more of life around you … I do believe strongly in photography and hope by following it intuitively that when the photographs are looked at they will touch the spirit in people.”

[U] For more than fifty years Harry Callahan has created some of the most innovative and expressive photographs the medium has ever seen.

[U] Moreover, he has known from almost the very beginning of his career both what he wanted to express in his art and how to realize his goals. Like other twentieth-century American photographers before him, he wanted to use his photography to understand and reveal his relationship,

[U] as he explained in 1946, “to the life within and about me”. Photography, he wrote, “is an adventure just as life is an adventure. If man wishes to express himself photographically, he must understand, surely to a certain extent, his realtionship to life. I am interested in relating the problems that affect me to some set of values that I am trying to discover and establish as being my life. I want to discover and establish them through photography”

[U] To a great extent, Callahan was fully formed by 1946; his goals, his subject matter, his method of working, and his style were clearly defined.

[U] Like the man himself, his work from this period, as well as throughout his career, is an uncanny mixture of directness and subtlety, transparency and complexity, grace and determination; and his images speak of order and chaos, public and private worlds, timeless beauty and ephemeral moments.

[U] Yet, because he celebrates change and cultivates chance, because he insists each time he revisits a subject he “find a way to see it fresh, to feel intensely,” his art and his vision have continued to grow and change in a spiral manner, reflecting both the evolution of his personal life and the changing social, cultural, aesthetic climate of the last fifty years.

[U] Harry Callahan was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1912. In 1936 he married Eleanor Knapp, the subject of many of his photographs (along with their daughter Barbara, born 1950).

[U] In this year he was also hired by the accounting department of Chrysler Motor Parts, and in 1938 he purchased his first camera and joined the Chrysler camera Club, where he first met photographer Todd Webb.

[U] Together they joined the Detroit Photo Guild in 1940, and over the next few years he was to meet several major photographic figures who influenced his life and his art – Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Arther Siegel, along with Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Paul Strand, Lisette Model, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall and Minor White.

[U] In 1946 he was hired by László Moholy-Nagy to teach at the Institute of Design, Chicago.

[U] His first exhibition took place in 1947, when fifty photographs were shown in 750 Studio Gallery, Chicago. In 1948 he began a long friendship with Edward Steichen, Director of the Department of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

[U] Steichen chose six of his photographs for an exhibition “In and out of focus”, and hereafter his work was shown extensively in one-person and group shows in the United States and abroad.

[U] In !949 he was appointed head of Department of Photography, Institute of Design, Chicago where he worked until accepting the position of Deapartment Head and Associate Professor of Photography, Rhode island School of Design, Providence, in 1961.

[U] During this time he taught a summer course where he met Aaron Siskind, Ben Shahn and Robert Motherwell, and used a fellowship to take a leave of absence and live with his family in Aix-en-Provence.

[U] In 1963 he took his first major photographic trip through Mexico, then traveled extensively throughout Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China.

[U] In 1964 he was appointed Professor, and his first major monograph was published: Photographs: Harry Callahan, by El Mochuelo Gallery, Santa Barbara.

[U] He continued to teach until his retirement in 1977, and in 1978 was the first photographer to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.

[U] He received various awards, honours and medals during the rest of his life and continued to photograph. He died in Atlanta, Georgia in 1999.

[U] Harry Callahan’s work has been exhibited extensively across the United States and throughout the rest of the world. His work is represented in substantial number in the Hallmark Photographic Collection, Kansas, along with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.