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Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work

May 19 - September 9, 2007


The Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) in Balboa Park announces an exhibition of photographs and rare archival materials by master 20th century photographer Harry Callahan. Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work features approximately 120 photographs along with the artist's working materials drawn from Callahan's archive at the Center for Creative Photography in Tuscon, AZ. The exhibition will be on view May 19 to September 9, 2007.

"Harry Callahan is perhaps the most important and influential photographer of mid-20th century America," explains MoPA's Curator of Photography Carol McCusker. "This exhibition puts his working methods on view, including negatives and contact sheets, so that the public sees his creative process evolving." Callahan's negatives will be shown alongside Callahan's most acclaimed photographs. These pairings provide insight into his printing methods, such as his use of high-contrast printing to suppress extraneous detail and create maximum graphic impact in the final image. The viewer can examine a group of negatives made at the same time together with the final prints and consider Callahan's decision-making process.

Callahan (1912-1999) discovered photography in his native Detroit where he worked on the line at Chrysler's Parts Division. After attending a 1941 workshop with Ansel Adams, he decided to devote his life to the medium. In 1946, Callahan was appointed to teach photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago by László Moholy-Nagy. Moholy-Nagy, who fled Europe in the mid-1930s, was a major contributor to Germany's Bauhaus school of art, architecture and design and eventually landed in Chicago recreating much of the tenants of the Bauhaus at the Institute of Design. Callahan was among his best students.

After WWII, Callahan became known for his nearly abstract studies of nature, multiple exposure street scenes, light abstractions, and intimate pictures of his wife and daughter. "Although his work leans toward abstraction, he never looses his subject entirely," says McCusker. "There is always an anchor so that we see what is tender, vulnerable, or unique in what he is showing us, whether photographing a cluster of trees, an urban street, or his family." In 1961, Callahan moved to the east coast and taught alongside Aaron Siskind at the Rhode Island School of Design until he retired in 1977. "Callahan was a prolific teacher; his work has influenced scores of photographers who either studied with him or studied his work. This exhibition will no doubt create many more followers," states McCusker.

Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work also includes printed materials-magazines, books, exhibition announcements, correspondence-which demonstrate how Callahan established his reputation in the field of fine-art photography, beginning with his association with MoMA curator Edward Steichen in the late 1940s. Also on view is a rare document written by Callahan himself: a list of important negatives to which he referred when filling print orders. In addition to the printed and archival materials, the exhibition features Callahan's nine-minute 16mm film "Motion" (1948-49).

On Friday, June 15, at 7 p.m., MoPA presents a conversation between exhibition curator Britt Salvesen from the Center for Creative Photography and Callahan's wife, Eleanor, and daughter, Barbara. Eleanor served as muse and subject for Callahan's work for more than 15 years, and her image is featured throughout many of the photographs in the exhibition. The conversation will be held in MoPA's Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theater. Fee for tickets to the event available at the door.

A 192-page catalogue of the exhibition published by the Center for Creative Photography will be available in MoPA's bookstore. A complementary exhibition, Arthur Lavine: Peripatetic Pleasures and Meditations, is also on view May 12 - September 2, 2007.

(above: Harry Callahan. Eleanor, Chicago, 1949. © 1999 The Estate of Harry Callahan)


(above: Harry Callahan. Eleanor, 1948. © 1999 The Estate of Harry Callahan.)


(above: Harry Callahan. Study, 1948. © 1999 The Estate of Harry Callahan.)

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