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Detroit, 1943

Detroit, 1943

Harry Callahan (1912-1999) purchased his first camera in 1938, when he was a 26 year-old clerk in the shipping department of Chrysler Motors. While there, he joined the Chrysler camera club and then the Detroit Photo Guild. In 1941, he met Ansel Adams while taking a workshop with him in which he learned the value of the precise print. In the summer of 1942, Callahan traveled to New York to meet Alfred Stieglitz whose series of portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe inspired him to begin the decades-long series of portraits of his wife Eleanor.

Around this time, Callahan befriended Detroit-area photographer, Arthur Siegel, who was a practicing photojournalist. Siegel had studied with László Moholy-Nagy, a European émigré who founded the New Bauhaus school in Chicago. Through informal gatherings at Siegel’s house, he became acquainted with Moholy-Nagy’s Bauhaus teachings. Within two years, Callahan had developed the themes and techniques that would characterize his 50-year career, many of which were derived from Bauhaus teachings. He experimented with cameras in a range of sizes, from 35 mm to 8 x 10 inch formats; and made multiple exposures, high-contrast prints and used both black and white and color film.


In 1945, Callahan joined the photography faculty at the Institute of Design in Chicago.  In 1961, he began to teach at the Rhode Island School of Design, retiring in 1977. From the late 1940s to early 1960s, Callahan’s central model and muse was his wife Eleanor Callahan, and after her birth in 1950, his daughter Barbara. By the 1970s, he had begun to focus on color photography. He had made color photographs for several years, but they existed only as Kodachrome transparencies. In the late 1970s he began to produce dye transfer prints. Also in the 1970s, Callahan began to concentrate more on exterior themes, such as the beach, city and landscape. In 1983, the Callahans moved to Atlanta where Harry developed his Peachtree series. He died there is 1999.

Harry Callahan’s work is in many museum and private collections in the United States and Europe including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The High Museum, the George Eastman House, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. His archive is in the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.