Harry Callahan: Eleanor
November 7, 2008-February 15, 2009
at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
Harry Callahan: Eleanor is an in-depth study of Callahan's most evocative photographs: those of Eleanor Callahan, the photographer's wife of 63 years. Comprising some 80 images, the exhibition focuses on his photographs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, when Eleanor was one of his primary subjects. The show includes many of the artist's most acclaimed and influential images, the majority of which have not been exhibited in more than 20 years, and several that have never been exhibited before. Organized by the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA).
The RISD Museum of Art is showing what may be Harry Callahan's greatest body of work - the wonderful pictures of his wife Eleanor taken over 3 decades. It includes all of his well known images of her, most notably the iconic Eleanor, Chicago 1949, her head emerging from the water with a Mona Lisa-like expression on her face.
Eleanor, Chicago 1949
He's not offering insight into her personality or trying to make a lengthy portrait essay examining her life. Rarely is there any tone of sexuality or examination of what daily life was for her. She is the main element in the compostion. A very specific expression of what was arranged before the camera at a given time. They are at once beautiful, modern and captivating. Perhaps what emotion and expression we get from them comes from within ourselves and what we bring to the experience of seeing these portraits.
Many of the photos haven't been exhibited before. They include both entirely diffent compositions and variations of the well known photos.
Eleanor, New York, 1945
It's fitting that this show is at RISD - he taught there and photographed in the area. Emmet Gowin was one of his students at RISD during 1965-1967 and Callahan's influence is apparent in Gowin's first book that features portraits of his own wife Edith.
This type of exhibit seems to get lost in all the glamour and exitement that museums seem to require in today's world. It is however, a monumental exhibit of a rare body of work. For fans of photography it is a must-see.