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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Harry Callahan

Born: Harry Morey Callahan 
Other: Harry M. Callahan 
Dates:  1912, 22 October - 1999
Born:  US, MI, Detroit
Died:  US, RI, Providence
Active:  US
American photographer and teacher.

Preparing biographies

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Influenced by Ansel Adams, with Arthur Siegel (1913–1978), and Aaron Siskind, developed and taught an influential, expressive photography program at Chicago’s Institute of Design (1946–1961) and later at Rhode Island School of Design (1964–1977). Covering themes from his daily life, such as his wife and daughter, the city, and the landscape, Callahan intuitively infused his elegant photographs with a sophisticated sense of grace that was simultaneously distant and personal. His spare, abstract, black and white compositions reflect his Bauhaus training in design and form, but he also worked later in life exclusively in color. Callahan’s appeal was because he was a doer and not a talker, concerned with what he called "the standard photographic problems," such as composition, contrast, focus, motion, and multiple exposures. "Because I love photography so much I was a successful teacher, although I never knew what or how to teach. It’s the same with my photography. I just don’t know why I take the pictures I do." 
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Bill Jay
Harry Callahan 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

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Supplemental information


Harry M. Callahan
American, 1912–1999

Harry Morey Callahan was one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century. Callahan, like Aaron Siskind and Frederick Sommer, respected the objectivity of straight photography, but they used its ability to replicate the every day world to reinvent it, “to charge it with personal, even mythic, resonance.” (Davis, An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, 1999).
Callahan was the son of a Midwestern farmer who moved to Detroit to get work in the auto factories there. Callahan began as an amateur photographer 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 who came to give a workshop. Callahan was struck by “Adam’s crisp nature studies and precise prints… [which] stood in stark contrast with the soft-focus, manipulated imagery practiced in the camera clubs.” (Salvesen, Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work, 2006). Adams’ pictures demonstrated how clear, sharp, highly detailed descriptions of the visible world could be expressive. Adams offered him Stieglitz’s model of transcendentalism and equivalency. “I wanted something important, something spiritual in my life then” Callahan later reported. In the summer of 1942 Callahan traveled to New York to meet Stieglitz, but was too intimidated to show his photographs. He admired Stieglitz’s series of portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe, which 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 of meeting Adams, Callahan developed the themes and techniques that would characterize his 50 year career. On one hand he experimented with modernist ideas 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. On the other hand he imbued his straight photographs of the every-day world with personal expression. Callahan explored a range of subjects – landscapes and city streets as well as portraits of his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara.
Arthur Siegel was asked to join the photography faculty at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1945, and the next year he invited Callahan to join as well. In 1961 he began to teach at the Rhode Island School of Design, retiring in 1977. From the late 1940s to early 1960s, his central model and muse was his wife Eleanor Callahan; and after 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 be began to produce dye transfer prints. Also in the 1970s Callahan began to concentrate more on exterior themes, such as the beach, the city and the land. In 1983 the Callahans moved to Atlanta where Harry developed his Peachtree series. He passed away in Atlanta on March 15, 1999.
Harry Callahan’s archive is in the Center for Creative Photography; and his work is in several museum and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The High Museum, the George Eastman House, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Source: Salvesen, Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work, 2006; Davis, An American Century: From Dry-point to Digital, and the High Museum.
[Contributed by the Etherton Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website

Internet resources

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Harry Callahan ... 
National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.) 
Has major collections of Harry Callahan, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Irving Penn and Alfred Stieglitz. There are a number of exhibitions on-line but to locate the holdings for an individual photographer you need to use the search options 
Harry Callahan ... 
Interview by John Paul Caponigro as a part of his Artists on Art series ( 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.256 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.89-90 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.210 [Includes a well written short biography on Harry Callahan with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Harry Callahan.] 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.453 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.101-102 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Bauret, Gabriel (ed. and text) 2001 Color Photography (New York: Assouline) [Includes example color photographs by Harry Callahan] 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.243 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.210 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Harry Callahan are included in this classic history.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.166 [Analyzes a single photograph by Harry Callahan.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Harry Callahan was represented in 106 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
Approximate number of records: ? 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
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