exhibition
Harry Callahan, Perspective Distortion: Building Façade and Blue Sky, Atlanta, 1977, printed 1978-1980. NGC Collection. Gift of Donald Fraser, Ottawa, 1981. © Pace MacGill
Harry Callahan, Perspective Distortion: Building Façade and Blue Sky, Atlanta, 1977, printed 1978-1980. NGC Collection. Gift of Donald Fraser, Ottawa, 1981. © Pace MacGill
Harry Callahan, New York, 1961. NGC Collection. Purchased 1978. © Pace MacGill
Harry Callahan, New York, 1961. NGC Collection. Purchased 1978. © Pace MacGill

Born in Detroit in 1912, Harry Callahan was a self-taught photographer. Callahan began taking pictures in his hometown Detroit for fun, opting for an inexpensive point and shoot camera over an expensive 16mm movie camera. In 1941 he joined a camera club and while there met celebrated photographers of the previous generation including Ansel Adams who gave a workshop for the class. After studying engineering at Michigan State University, Callahan worked as a photographic technician for General Motors, but was hired in 1946 by László Moholy-Nagy to teach photography at the Institute of Design (ID), Chicago.

Initially established as the New Bauhaus, the ID was at the forefront of innovative methods of education and teaching photography in America in the mid-20th century. In 1948 Callahan met Edward Steichen, who responded strongly to his work, including it in numerous shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1961, Callahan left Chicago to head the photography department at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence with his friend and former ID colleague Aaron Siskind. He stepped down from the chairmanship in 1973, but continued teaching at the school until his retirement in 1977.

Callahan often transformed his everyday subjects—nature, architecture, city streets, his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara into (barely recognizable) simple forms; a visual essence that still evokes their worldly counterparts. Callahan’s goal, however, was to describe, not to conceal or distort. For each new subject, he refreshed his photographic vocabulary and used his 8×10 view camera and strong sense of design and composition to create meticulously crafted and elegant images.

Harry Callahan produced several monographs of his work including Harry Callahan (1996), Water’s Edge (1980), Harry Callahan: Color (1980), Callahan (1976), Photographs: Harry Callahan (1965), The Multiple Image (1961), and On My Eyes (1960). His work is held in the collections of numerous museums including the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York and the George Eastman House, New York.

via Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago)