Magazine article Insight on the News

Innovative Photographer Strove 'To See It Different.' (Harry Callahan, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Innovative Photographer Strove 'To See It Different.' (Harry Callahan, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Article excerpt

A traveling exhibition of his work is boosting the reputation of Harry Callahan, one of America's most expressive, but underrated, artists who has been making photographs for more than half a century.

Self-taught photographer Harry Callahan, 83, started experimenting with a camera in 1938 while working as a shipping clerk at the Chrysler Motor Parts Corp. in Detroit. From the start, he employed his gift for innovation: multiple and time exposures, collage, extreme contrast, camera motion and unique lighting. Callahan also had a genius for dramatic composition and an unfailing eye for detail.

Why, then, is he not better known to the public even as he is respected by professionals? For one thing, Callahan worked with several techniques and styles and is not associated with one particular school or "look." For another, he spent years teaching, first in Chicago and then at the Rhode Island School of Design, perhaps taking time that he might have spent promoting himself.

Viewers of the traveling exhibition of Callahar's photographs made between 1941 and 1992 will note the early influence of hard-edged abstractionist Laszlo Moholy-Nag, who gave Callahan his start with a teaching position at the Institute of Design in Chicago. Callahan's series of weeds in water, titled Detroit (1941-42), his Weeds in Snow (1943) and Sunlight on Water (1943), show his attraction to simple, everyday scenes and objects and his distillation of them into rhythms of dancing lines. But even in those early years, he had begun testing the limits of photography, as in Camera Movement on Flashlight (1946-47).

Callahan is justly celebrated, for his series titled Eleanot, named for his wife, who would serve as his model for many years. …

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