Harry Callahan (1912-1999), a stubbornly unclassifiable photographer who spent the best years of his long career in Chicago, has always been a bit of an enigma. Although he taught at Chicago’s Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Institute of Design, Callahan never allowed himself to become a strict adherent to its Bauhaus traditions. Instead, he chose to work instinctively, without an explicit artistic ideology.
At his best, Callahan was an exacting minimalist, who extracted the essences of images by removing nearly everything that distracted from their fundamental graphic worth. In the darkroom, a tangle of weeds in snow became an elegant scrawl of slender lines in a field of blank white. The bare torso of Callahan’s wife pictured in inky silhouette, looks as if it might have been painted with a single stroke of a calligrapher’s brush.
Callahan’s work is strictly formal and emotionally abstinent, never attempting to inflame or persuade. One can hardly find lonelier, more brooding pictures of Chicago than his stoic images of lakefront trees.
Harry Callahan: An Uncompromising Minimalist Photographer
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