Harry Callahan

Harry Callahan was born in Detroit in 1912. He had no formal training as a photographer and according to his own later writings (of which he left few examples) he was ‘terrifically naive,’ which he considered a great strength. He was a hobbyist until 1941, (after having abandoned his engineering studies at Michigan State University), when he began refining his skills at the Detroit Photo Guild, where he met Arthur Siegel. It was also there that he first saw work by Ansel Adams which inspired Callahan to search for his own photographic style. Siegel later became the head of photography at the Institute of Design and recommended that Moholy-Nagy hire Callahan, who joined the school in the summer of 1946 and taught there until 1961, save for a year-long sabbatical, spent in France (1957-58) on a Graham Foundation Fellowship.  In 1949 Callahan became the head of the I D photography department and was instrumental in bringing in Aaron Siskind to teach, resulting in the now legendary teaching duo, whose influence profoundly affected the next generation of photographers, artists and teachers. Throughout his career, Callahan explored a number of different subjects including abstracted landscapes of nearby trees, grasses and water, and city streets with their pedestrians and architectural facades. He also concentrated on intimate and creatively rigorous portraits of the two women in his life, his wife Eleanor and his daughter Barbara. He offered masterful glimpses of the ordinary elements of life in an elegant, modernist style. Callahan explored many different techniques including the use of extreme contrast, collage, multiple and time exposures, and camera motion in his work. His techniques were often employed to refine subject matter to its almost abstract essence with the surfaces of his prints gleaming with an almost mathematical but lyrical precision. He was a perfectionist, creating comparatively few finalized works.  Noted also as a man of few words, Callahan taught largely by example, leaving the eloquent and more social Siskind, (a former school teacher), to communicate to the students verbally.  to 1961 Callahan took an offer to teach at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he taught until retiring in 1977.  He then began to photograph exclusively in color, focusing on the beaches and seaside communities of New England. In 1983 The Callahans moved to Atlanta, Georgia where Harry lived and worked until he died in 1999.  In 1996 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.  Harry Callahan is one of the most influential and lauded photographers of the twentieth century.  His works are in the collections of every major museum as well as in countless private collections in the country and Europe.