Harry Callahan (1912-1999) was an American photographer who is considered one of the great innovators of modern American photography. He was born in Detroit, Michigan and started photographing in 1938 as an autodidact. Until 1941 he was a hobbyist, when he saw photographs by the landscape photographer Ansel Adams. He was then inspired to search for his own photographic style. He tended to avoid literal representations in his work, preferring instead to emphasise quietly lyrical abstract design.
In 1946 László Moholy-Nagy and Arthur Siegel invited Callahan to join the staff of the prestigious Chicago’s Institute of Design (from 1949 part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), where from 1949 to 1961 he was head of the photography department. From 1961 until 1973 he helped develop a photography department at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
Harry Callahan left almost no written records--no diaries, letters, scrapbooks or teaching notes. His technical photographic method was to go out almost every morning, walk the city he lived in and take numerous pictures. He photographed his wife, Eleanor, and daughter, Barbara, and the streets, scenes and buildings of cities where he lived, showing a strong sense of line and form, and light and darkness. He also worked with multiple exposures. Harry Callahan's work was a deeply personal response to his own life. He was well known to encourage his students to turn their cameras on their lives, and he led by example. Even as he did this he was not sentimental, romantic or emotional.
Harry Callahan illustrated the centrality of Eleanor in his life by his continual return to her over 15 years as his prime subject -- she was subject more than model -- but the images are not about who she was, what she did, what she thought as an individual. Harry Callahan's art was a long meditation on the possibilities of photography as it might be used playfully, but not naively.
Already in 1976 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented a major retrospective exhibition of Callahan’s work. Numerous exhibitions have been held within the U.S. and abroad. Harry Callahan’s work is in many museum and private collections in the United States and Europe including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The High Museum, the George Eastman House, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. His archive is in the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. In 1997 he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts.