21
Jun
10

Exhibition: ‘Harry Callahan: American Photographer’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 21st November 2009 – 3rd July 2010

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I admire the use of strong horizontals and verticals in the work of Harry Callahan and the exquisite sense of space he creates within the image plane. A true American master. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor, Chicago’
1949

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara’
1953

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Harry Calllahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara, Lake Michigan’
1953

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara’
c.1954

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor, Chicago’
1953

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Harry Callahan
‘Detroit’
1943

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“The brilliant graphic sensibility of Harry Callahan (1912-1999), a major figure in American photography, is the focus of “Harry Callahan: American Photographer” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). Debuting November 21, the exhibition features approximately 40 photographs that survey the major visual themes of the artist’s career. It celebrates the Museum’s important recent acquisitions – by both purchase and gift – of Callahan’s photographs and showcases significant examples of his artistry from the collections of friends of the MFA. The many sensitive pictures that Callahan made of his wife Eleanor, his depictions of passers-by on the street, his carefully composed landscapes and close-ups from nature, and experimental darkroom abstractions reveal a wide-ranging talent that was enormously influential.

“Harry Callahan was one of the most innovative photographers working in America in the mid 20th-century,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “His elegantly spare, introspective photographs demonstrate his lyricism and the originality of his sense of design.”

The Detroit-born photographer, whose career spanned six decades, became interested in the camera in the late 1930s while working as a Chrysler Corporation shipping clerk. He was largely self-taught, and attracted admiration early on for his originality. By 1946, Callahan was hired as a photography instructor by the Hungarian-born artist László Moholy-Nagy for the Institute of Design, a Bauhaus-inspired school of art and design in Chicago. In 1961, Callahan was invited to head the photography program at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he was based until retiring to Atlanta two decades later.

Harry Callahan’s approach helped shape American photography in the second half of the 20th-century,” said Anne Havinga, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, who organized the exhibition. “His way of seeing inspired countless followers and continues to feel fresh today.”

Callahan concentrated on a handful of personal subjects in his work, exploring each theme repeatedly throughout his career. These include portraits of his wife Eleanor, depictions of anonymous pedestrians, expressive details of the urban and natural landscape, and experimental darkroom abstractions. The MFA exhibition is organized into five themes: Eleanor, Pedestrians, Architecture, Landscapes, and Darkroom Abstractions …”

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor’
1948

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Harry Callahan
‘Chicago’
1950

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor, Chicago’
1949

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara (baby carriage)’
1952

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“In 1936, around the time that Callahan began to explore photography, he married Eleanor Knapp, who served as one of his first and most frequent subjects. Callahan’s portraits of his wife, characterized by their intimate yet detached poetry, have become a landmark in the history of photography. In the photograph “Eleanor” (about 1948, see second photograph above), Callahan portrays his wife in a private interior setting, facing away from the camera. After the birth of their daughter Barbara in 1950, she too entered these family pictures, which capture the intimate moments of daily life as seen in the photograph, “Eleanor and Barbara” (1953, see photograph second from top).

Callahan photographed the natural landscape throughout his career, focusing on its evocative forms and textures. In images such as “Aix-en-Provence”, France (1957), he explored the visual effects that he could create either through high contrast or closely related tonalities. Callahan also utilized a range of different experimental darkroom techniques – from photographing the beam of a flashlight in a darkened room, to developing one print from multiple negatives. Many of his multi-exposure pictures were made by superimposing images from popular culture onto studies of urban life. Callahan’s openness to experimentation was stimulating for the many students who worked with him.

Callahan made many of his best known images during his 15 years in Chicago, where he also began his role as an influential teacher. During the 1950s, the photographer embarked on a series of close-ups of anonymous pedestrians in the streets of Chicago, most of them women. Using a 35mm camera with a pre-focused telephoto lens, he captured passersby unaware of his presence, resulting in snapshot-like images that record unsuspecting subjects absorbed in private thought or action, such as “Chicago” (1950, see photograph above), a close-up of a preoccupied woman’s face. Callahan returned to this theme frequently, working in both black and white and color.

Callahan was repeatedly drawn to architectural and urban subjects. Prior to moving to Chicago, he explored the spaces of Detroit, photographing the formal patterns he discovered there. In “Detroit” (1943 – see photograph above), Callahan depicts a street scene, with the people in transit appearing as a pattern. He experimented with color in these pictures as early as the 1940s, but he worked more extensively in color later in his career, from the 1970s onward.”

Text from the Art Tatler website

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1961
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Barbara and Gene Polk
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Eleanor
about 1947
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Barbara and Gene Polk
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912–1999)
Cape Cod
1972
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Barbara and Gene Polk
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Cape Cod
1972
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Avenue of the Arts
Boston, Massachusetts 02115-5523
617-267-9300

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday
10 am-4:45 pm
Wednesday-Friday
10 am-9:45 pm
Saturday and Sunday
10 am-4:45 pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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17 Responses to “Exhibition: ‘Harry Callahan: American Photographer’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston”


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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