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Harry Callahan: Chicago | Detroit
March 13 @ 10:00 am - April 6 @ 5:30 pm GMT
13th Mar 2019 – 6th Apr 2019
Monday – Saturday 10 am – 5.30pm
3-5 Swallow Street
An exhibition of photographs by Harry Callahan (1912 – 1996) at Huxley-Parlour – the first UK exhibition of his work since it was displayed at Tate Modern in 2013.
Incorporating landscape, portraiture and abstraction, the exhibition demonstrates Callahan’s deeply personal response to his own life. His wife, daughter, and the streets, buildings and landscape of the cities he called home, were all re-occurring subjects of his work. Within his diverse subject matter, he established a singular aesthetic with a drive for experimentation which has had a lasting influence on post-war photography.
The exhibition focuses on works from the first two decades of Callahan’s career, from the early 1940s until the late 1950s, when he was based in Chicago. Callahan met Hungarian painter and photographer, László Moholy-Nagy in 1946, and went on to join the faculty of the New Bauhaus school that Moholy-Nagy had established in the city. The significance of this is evident in Callahan’s photographs from the 1940s which share the principles of Bauhaus design and experimentation. Much of his work from this period explores both total abstraction and the technicalities of the photographic medium, including use of double and triple exposures, blurs, extreme contrasts and collage.
Throughout this period in Chicago, Callahan meticulously and repeatedly photographed his wife Eleanor, his daughter Barbara, and the cityscape of Chicago. Eleanor was his most photographed subject and very often his portraits of her comfortably overlapped with his landscapes and abstraction, using her female form as its basis.
Born in 1912 (Detroit, Michigan), Harry Callahan worked as a clerk for Chrysler before attending a workshop by Ansel Adams in 1941 which led him to pursue photography. He lacked formal training, but his work demonstrated an intuitive interest in line and composition, as shown in his studies of nature as well as the urban environment. Since his first solo exhibition in 1947, Callahan’s work has been the subject of over sixty exhibitions around the world, including retrospectives at Tate Modern, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1955, Edward Steichen included Callahan’s work in the MoMA landmark touring exhibition, The Family of Man and he was the first photographer chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1978. His work is held in the permanent collections of many institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Harry Callahan was born on 22 October 1912, in Detroit, Michigan. He studied Chemical Engineering and Business at Michigan State University but left before completing his course, accepting a job at the Chrysler Motor Parts Corporation in 1936. Here he took up photography, becoming a member of Chrysler’s Camera Club in 1938 and two years later joining Detroit’s Photo Guild.
He was inspired by a lecture given by Ansel Adams in 1941, and a meeting with Alfred Stieglitz the following year, to take his interest seriously and devote his energies to photography. Callahan was intuitive and introverted in his work, and from the very start of his career, it was his wife Eleanor that was to be his central model and muse. The pair met on a blind date in 1933 when both worked for Chrysler in Detroit, she as a secretary and he as a clerk in the parts department. They married three years after meeting. Throughout his career, Callahan’s photographs were a deeply personal response to his own life; he photographed his wife and daughter and the streets, scenes and buildings of the cities he called home.
The development of Callahan’s reputation as a photographer was such that by 1946 he had received an invitation from László Moholy-Nagy to teach at his newly established New Bauhaus, later to become the Chicago Institute of Design. Callahan’s photographs from the 1940s share the principles of Bauhaus design and experimentation, showing a strong sense of light, line and form. With the formal precision of the European Modernism that he had learnt from Maholy-Nagy, Callahan aimed to express his feelings about life through his photography. His work is imbued with a greater emotional resonance than other photographers associated with the New Bauhaus, although much of his work from this period explores total abstraction and the technicalities of the photographic medium. Callahan often used double and triple exposures, blurs, extreme contrasts and collage.
He stayed at the school until 1961 when he moved to Rhode Island to establish a photography programme at the Rhode Island School of Design, remaining there until his retirement in 1977. Throughout his teaching career, Callahan encouraged his students to turn their cameras on their own lives, and he led by example in his frequent photography of his wife Eleanor and their daughter Barbara.
Exhibitions and Awards
Since his first one man show in 1947, Callahan’s work has been the subject of over sixty solo and group exhibitions around the world. In 1955 Edward Steichen included his work in the Museum of Modern Art’s famous touring exhibition, The Family of Man. He was also the first photographer chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1978.
Callahan was the recipient of numerous awards throughout his career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972 and the National Medal of Arts in 1996. He died in Atlanta on 15 March 1999. He left behind 100,000 negatives and over 10,000 proof prints. Callahan’s archive is now held by The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.
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