This American photographer has an interesting career, since his beginnings were practically those of an amateur practitioner who joined in the late thirties and with 26 years of age in a photography club in his workplace (Chrysler Corporation), and developed the whole of his body of work through constant experimentation.
His career as a professional or artist photographer begins after attend a lecture given by Ansel Adams to the members of the photography club in which Adams recommended seeking inspiration in the immediate reality that surrounds us, and invited photographers to describe in an accurate and detailed way the external world:
“A photograph should be a clean, Sharp, highly detailed description of the external world with a carefully delineated, continuous tonal range”
The first thing that catches my attention of Callahan’s work is his eclecticism, which shows that photographing simple things that are within our reach is as valid as creating spectacular images. Within the body of his work stand out the street photographs, since he practiced this genre with assiduity. In fact, in an interview he claimed that he had the habit of going out into the streets of his city (Chicago) every morning to take photographs.
Here we find curious experiments where he plays with geometry, reflections and double exposures. The latter is a stylistic resource that he used in different contexts on several series of photographs. The constant search for motivation and inspiration leads him to continually change subjects, turning occasionally to a subject that he previously rejected and then he reformulates his vision from a new point of view, revised by the accumulated experience. In an interview for the program “Visions and Images” (Barbaralee Diamonstein), he says that because of his method of work, he could never be a commercial photographer; he needs to take a long time to visually explore an object and this could not satisfy the requirements of commercial customers.
The photographs of his wife Leonor are a fundamental part of his catalogue. For years he was experimenting with different types of approaches to the subject: street scenes, composition studies and geometry where he includes his wife as an element of the scene, nudes, double exposures … The famous photo on Lake Michigan is of such a visual intensity and fascinating evocative capacity, where the fluidity of the water, the reflections, the contrast of the elements, and the expression of Leonor’s face give this portrait its most singular characteristic, and we seem to be contemplating a classic Boticelli scene of a nymph coming out of the water.
He devoted much of his life to training at the Institute of Design in Chicago and the Rodhe Island School of Design, where he was highly regarded by students. He argued that it is not possible to teach to be creative, and that art schools have to be honest and create a suitable environment that helps artists to find and go their own way: “Education is important because it makes people civilized”
Callahan, Harry (2013) Available at:http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/artist/Callahan,+Harry (Accessed: 1 December 2016).
Visions and images: Harry Callahan, 1981 (2008) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LhYs5eq5nw&t=1107s (Accessed: 3 December 2016).
WGBHForum (2014) Exploring Harry and Eleanor Callahan. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NwANjAyzrA (Accessed: 3 December 2016).
The Art of Photography (2014) Harry Callahan. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7C7hF5INfs (Accessed: 3 December 2016).