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The RISD Museum of Art Presents Harry Callahan: Eleanor
Harry Callahan, Eleanor, 1948, Gelatin silver print, 8 ¼ x 6 3/8 inches. Collection of Nicholas Pritzker, 30.2001. © Harry Callahan Estate.
PROVIDENCE, RI.- On Friday, November 7, The RISD Museum of Art presents approximately 80 acclaimed and influential images by former RISD faculty member and photography department founder Harry Callahan in an exhibition that explores one of the artist’s most studied subject—his wife Eleanor Callahan. Harry Callahan: Eleanor offers an in-depth study of Callahan’s photographs of his wife of 63 years. The exhibition focuses on portraits from the 1940s through the 1960s and includes many images from private collections which have not been shown in more than 20 years. Eighteen other works are from Callahan’s estate and have never before been exhibited publicly.

“These intimate photographs, taken over the course of several decades, not only reveal Harry Callahan’s devotion to his longtime companion and muse, but document his ongoing exploration of his chosen medium,” explains RISD Museum director Hope Alswang. “He was an enormously important influence on the RISD photography department and its students for many years, and we’re delighted to present this exhibition of some of his most significant works.”

Callahan is celebrated for his landscapes and beachscapes and his pioneering work in color photography, but the subject he returned to time and again, especially between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, was Eleanor. Although he consistently chose her as his subject, Callahan experimented endlessly in the ways in which he presented her, embracing an array of materials and techniques, from highly detailed large-format negatives and distortions of movement and focus to the use of multiple exposures to extend a photograph’s expressive nature.

Born and raised in Detroit, Harry Morey Callahan (1912–99) is considered one of the great innovators of American photography. His career began in 1938 when he joined the camera club at Chrysler Motors, his employer at the time. “Harry started photographing, I think, in ’38, and from the day that we got married, he never stopped photographing. He always had a camera in his hand,” said Eleanor Callahan in an interview with Julian Cox, the High Museum’s curator of photography and the organizer of the show.

Inspired by a lecture and workshop by Ansel Adams, Callahan improved his techniques and began producing professional-quality photographs in the early 1940s. In 1946, László Moholy-Nagy hired him to teach photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and in 1961 he joined the faculty at RISD, where he established the photography department and mentored students including Henry Horenstein (BFA 1971, MFA 1973, RISD faculty) and Emmet Gowin (MFA ’67), who wrote the introduction to the exhibition catalogue. Callahan retired from RISD in 1977 and in 1983 he and Eleanor moved to Atlanta, where she still lives today.

Harry Callahan: Eleanor premiered last year at the High Museum in Atlanta; the only other venue for the show is the RISD Museum, where it will be on view through February 15. Harry Callahan: Eleanor is organized by the High Museum of Art. Featuring an introduction by Emmet Gowin, Professor of Photography at Princeton University, as well as with a historical essay and an interview with Eleanor Callahan by the High’s Photography Curator Julian Cox, a catalogue was published by Steidl Press (Germany) in conjunction with the exhibition.





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