Harry Callahan.
The Photographer at Work.


Text by Britt Salvesen. Introduction by John Szarkowski. Photographs by Harry Callahan.
Yale University Press, New Haven, 2006. 192 pp., 12 color and 213 b&w duotone illustrations, 9¾x11¾".

Artists’ self-assessments come in all shapes and sizes, but one size seems to fit quite a few: Next Big Thing, Queen/King of the Hill, Biggest Waffle on the Griddle. Then there was Harry Callahan, who couldn’t seem to deflate himself enough. His motto might have been, “I was all right, but I was persistent.” Famously self-effacing, rarely self-revealing, Callahan has remained something of an enigma. Initially influenced by Alfred Stieglitz’s romantic-artist persona (as filtered through Ansel Adams), and by László Maholy-Nagy’s avant-garde Bauhaus sensibility, Callahan steered an intuitive course that kept him close to family, nature and the urban landscape, on the one hand, but also allowed him a free hand with transformative abstraction, both in the viewfinder and in the darkroom. A largely self-taught photographer, Callahan thought that he was “as good as [he’d] ever be” early on in his artistic life. Once he was able to think of fine art as a real career, he looked at his photographs as a slowly accreting record of the way life affected him, rather than a willed series of aesthetic moves. His work, his working method and his teaching (for many years in tandem with Aaron Siskind) influenced a generation of photographers. Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work attempts to get inside the man by looking closely at his influences, and the way they play out in the work; images and negatives are drawn from the superb Callahan archive at the Center for Creative Photography. The book is loosely organized around favored themes, often sacrificing chronological order for visual flow, which makes it an inspired pleasure to page through, though the transitions are occasionally a little jumpy. The lucid biographical essay, by curator Britt Salvesen, illuminates Callahan’s stages and breakthroughs as brightly as anyone has been able to do. PHIL HARRIS Read Publisher's Description.

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