Harry Callahan (1912 – 1999)

Harry Callahan was a self-taught photographer born in Detroit, Michigan in 1912. He began taking pictures in his hometown for fun, opting for an inexpensive point and shoot camera over an expensive 16mm movie camera. In 1941, he joined a camera club where he met celebrated photographers of the previous generation, including Ansel Adams. After studying engineering at Michigan State University, Callahan worked as a photographic technician for General Motors. He was then 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 became the head of the photography department at the Rhode Island School of Design, along 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 everday subjects – nature, architecture, city streets, his wife Eleanor and daughter Judy 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 8x10 view camera and strong sense of design and composition to create meticulously crafted and elegant images.  
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 Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Art Institute of Chicago and the George Eastman House, New York.