Harry Callahan (photographer)

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Harry Callahan
Harry Morey Callahan

(1912-10-22)October 22, 1912
DiedMarch 15, 1999(1999-03-15) (aged 86)
  • Photographer
  • educator
AwardsEdward MacDowell Medal
National Medal of Arts

Harry Morey Callahan (October 22, 1912 – March 15, 1999) was an American photographer and educator.[1][2] He taught at both the Institute of Design in Chicago and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Callahan's first solo exhibition was at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1951. He had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1976/1977. Callahan was a recipient of the Edward MacDowell Medal and the National Medal of Arts. He represented the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1978.

Early life[edit]

Harry Morey Callahan was born in Detroit, Michigan.[1][2] He worked at Chrysler when he was a young man then left the company to study engineering at Michigan State University. He dropped out, returned to Chrysler and joined its camera club.[3] Callahan began teaching himself photography in 1938. He formed a friendship with Todd Webb who was also to become a photographer.[4] A talk given by Ansel Adams in 1941 inspired him to take his work seriously.[1][2] In 1941, Callahan and Webb visited Rocky Mountain State Park but didn't return with any photographs.[4] In 1946 he was invited to teach photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago[2] by László Moholy-Nagy.[5] He moved to Rhode Island in 1961 to establish a photography program at the Rhode Island School of Design, eventually inviting close friend and fellow artist Aaron Siskind to join him, teaching there until his retirement in 1977.[1][2]


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 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 and daughter and the streets, scenes and buildings of cities where he lived, showing a strong sense of line and form, and light and darkness.[2][6] Even prior to birth, his daughter 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.

He also worked with multiple exposures.[2][7] Callahan's work was a deeply personal response to his own life. He encouraged his students to turn their cameras on their own lives, leading by example. Callahan photographed his wife over a period of fifteen years, as his prime subject.[2][8] 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.[9]

Callahan was 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.[10] In 1955 Edward Steichen included his work in The Family of Man, MoMA's popular international touring exhibition.

In 1956, he received the Graham Foundation Award, which allowed him to spend a year in France with his family from 1957 to 1958. He settled in Aix-en-Provence, where he took many photographs.[11]

Along with the painter Richard Diebenkorn, he represented the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1978.[1][2]

In 1994, he selected 130 original prints with the help of the gallery owner Peter MacGill, and brought them together under the name of French Archives, to offer them to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. Some of these images were taken in Aix-en-Provence and in the South of France, and are the subject of a temporary exhibition at the Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence in 2019.[11]

Callahan left behind 100,000 negatives and over 10,000 proof prints. The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona maintains his photographic archives. In 2013, Vancouver Art Gallery received a gift of almost 600 Callahan photographs from the Larry and Cookie Rossy Family Foundation.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Callahan met his future wife, Eleanor Knapp, on a blind date in 1933. At that time she was a secretary at Chrysler Motors in Detroit and he was a clerk. They married three years later. In 1950 their daughter Barbara was born.[3]

Callahan died in Atlanta in 1999.[2] His wife Eleanor died on February 28, 2012, in a hospice in Atlanta at the age of 95.[3][9]


  • Harry Callahan. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1967. OCLC 283359742. With an introductory essay by Paul Sherman.
  • Harry Callahan: Color: 1941–1980. Providence, R.I.: Matrix Publications, 1980. Edited by Robert Tow and Ricker Winsor. ISBN 978-0936554006. With a foreword by Jonathan Williams and an afterword by A. D. Coleman.
  • Water's Edge. Lyme, CN: Callaway, 1980. ISBN 9780935112016. With an introductory poem by A. R. Ammons and an afterword by Callahan.
  • Eleanor. New York City: Callaway, 1984. ISBN 978-0935112115.
  • Harry Callahan: New Color: Photographs 1978-1987. Kansas City, MO: Hallmark Cards, 1988. ISBN 978-0875296241. Edited(?) and with text by Keith F. Davis. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Harry Callahan. Masters of Photography. New York: Aperture, 1999. ISBN 978-0893818210. With an essay by Jonathan Williams.
  • Harry Callahan: Retrospective. Heidelberg, Germany: Kehrer, 2013. ISBN 978-3868283587. With essays by Dirk Luckow, Peter MacGill, Sabine Schnakenberg, and Julian Cox. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Harry Callahan: Photos. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1996. ISBN 978-0821223130. With text by Sarah Greenough. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Seven Collages. Göttingen: Steidl, 2012. ISBN 978-3869301402. With an essay by Julian Cox.
  • Harry Callahan: The Street. London: Black Dog, 2016. Curated and edited by Grant Arnold. ISBN 978-1910433584. Exhibition catalogue.


Solo exhibitions[edit]


Callahan's work is held in the following permanent collections:


  1. ^ a b c d e Hopkinson, Amanda (30 March 1999). "Harry Callahan obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-29 – via www.theguardian.com.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Grundberg, Andy (18 March 1999). "Harry Callahan, Cool Master of the Commonplace, Dies at 86". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-29 – via NYTimes.com.
  3. ^ a b c d Suzanne Muchnic (2012). "Eleanor Callahan dies at 95; subject of photos by husband, Harry". Los-Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  4. ^ a b staff writer (April 22, 2000). "Todd Webb, 94, Peripatetic Photographer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. Todd Webb, a photographer who documented the everyday life and architecture of New York, Paris and the American West, died last Saturday at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. He was 94 and lived in Auburn, Me.
  5. ^ "Photographer Harry Callahan at 100". PBS NewsHour. 1 December 2011. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  6. ^ Booth, Photographs: Harry Callahan Words: Hannah (27 January 2012). "The big picture: Eleanor and Barbara, by Harry Callahan". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-29 – via www.theguardian.com.
  7. ^ Grundberg, Andy (14 June 1985). "Photography: New Work in Color by Callahan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-29 – via NYTimes.com.
  8. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (19 June 2013). "Portraits of women – by the men who loved them". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-29 – via www.theguardian.com.
  9. ^ a b Woodward, Richard B. (28 February 2012). "Eleanor Callahan, Photographic Muse for Harry Callahan, Dies at 95". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-29 – via NYTimes.com.
  10. ^ "Harry Callahan Biography". BookRags. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  11. ^ a b c Brochure of the Harry Callahan exhibition, French Archives, 1957-1958, Granet Museum, Aix-en-Provence, 2019
  12. ^ "Medal Day History". MacDowell Colony. Archived from the original on 10 August 2016. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  13. ^ "MacDowell Medal winners 1960-2011". London: The Daily Telegraph. 13 April 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  14. ^ "Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  15. ^ a b Williams, Val (24 March 1999). "Obituary: Harry Callahan". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-05-09. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  16. ^ "Press Releases from 1951". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  17. ^ "Harry Callahan". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  18. ^ "Harry Callahan". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  19. ^ "Works". collections.eastman.org. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  20. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Photography". www.mocp.org. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  21. ^ "Harry Callahan". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  22. ^ "Online Collections Database: Harry Callahan". Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved September 11, 2019.

External links[edit]