Harry Callahan – Tate Modern

On a recent trip to London I visited the Harry Callahan exhibition at the Tate Modern, a wonderful multi room exhibition that introduced me to a great American photographer, born in 1912 in Detroit he began his career studying engineering until he later dropped out, resulting in beginning work with Chrysler while also joining there camera club. He began teaching himself photography in 1938 whereby he was present at a Ansel Adams talk which inspired him to take his photography far more seriously. In 1946 he was invited by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to teach at the Institute of Design in Chicago, he continue teaching in 1961 at the Rhode Island School of Design within there photography program until his retirement in 1977.

During his career Harry Callahan would continuously spend the morning photographing the city he lived in then spending the afternoon producing proofs and contact sheets of the best from that day, however continuously he would use this as his method, he confessed he would only produce around half a dozen finished prints each year.

His wife and muse, Eleanor would be a consistent element of his photography, from nudes to clothed, near and far, studio and location and double and triple exposures. He also used these innovative elements of photography without including Eleanor, namely in street scenes and nature.

The exhibition at the Tate Modern was a substantial collection of his work from throughout his career, broken up into ‘Nature, buildings and people’ it is his portrait of Eleanor in 1947, he wonderfully homogenises her appearance in a brilliantly interesting pose, the delicate soft tones are only broken by the controlled at subtle shadows. In another room, based upon Callahan’s nature photography there is a strong sense of abstract and within the series on grasses, beautifully captured in delicate light the images are an interesting look at the printing processes of the 40’s while later they show a great control in capturing the movement and warm and cool light tones in the grasses.

However it is the double exposures of Harry Callahan that truly inspire me, his use of street scenes and portraits to add depth and further the interest and narrative are extremely complex and delicate uses of film photography. This example below inspired me to produce my own double exposure, taking inspiration from both the architectural style of a London bus and also the street style of Londoners I produced this double exposure.

I have aimed to replicate the balance between the images, using both to produce focal points that work well together but to also balance the exposures in being able to create an interesting combination.

In all I found Harry Callahan’s work to be inspirational, not only in the final product but also his method and approach, his use of lighting and innovations that combined to produce interesting, thought provoking and beautiful photographs.


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