Discipline: Visual Art – photography

Harry Callahan

Discipline: Visual Art – photography
Region: Detroit, MI

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 1993

Harry Morey Callahan (1912-1999) was an American photographer. He began teaching himself photography in 1938 after dropping out of the engineering program at Michigan State University. He formed a friendship with Todd Webb who was also to become a photographer. A talk given by Ansel Adams in 1941 inspired him to take his work seriously. 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.

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 in which he lived, 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, the streets, scenes, and buildings, showing a strong sense of line and form, and light and darkness.

He also worked with multiple exposures and tried several technical experiments – double and triple, blurs, using large- and small-format film. Callahan's work was a deeply personal response to his own life. He encouraged his students to do the same, to turn their cameras on their own lives, leading by example. His wife Eleanor was his prime subject for 15 years. In 1955 Edward Steichen included Callahan’s work in “The Family of Man,” MoMA's popular international touring exhibition.