Eleanor, Chicago 1954
Harry Morey Callahan (October 22, 1912 – March 15, 1999) was an American photographer who is considered to be one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century. He was also 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. He was born in Detroit, Michigan and started photographing in 1938 as an autodidact. By 1946, he was appointed by László Moholy-Nagy to teach photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago. Callahan retired in 1977, at which time he was teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design.
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 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, Eleanor, and daughter, Barbara, and the streets, scenes and buildings of cities where he lived, showing a strong sense of line and form, and light and darkness. He also worked with multiple exposures. Callahan’s work was a deeply personal response to his own life. He was well known to encourage his students to turn their cameras on their lives, and he led 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.
In 1950 his daughter Barbara, was born. Even prior to her birth she 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.
In 1996, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
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 by the Pace/MacGill Gallery.