Harry Callahan: Color Photography

Harry Callahan began making color pictures almost as soon as he started photographing but they existed only as Kodachrome transparencies. In the late 1970s he began producing dye transfer prints.


Harry Callahan, Ragsdale Beauty Shop, Detroit, 1951

In 1941 I was introduced to a photography that had unlimited possibilities for me. I can honestly say that for the past five years I have devoted every spare moment to thinking about and doing photography as a means of expressing my feelings and visual relationship to life within me and about me… My project could only be to photographs as I felt and desired; to regulate a pleasant form of living; to get up in the morning—free to feel the trees, the grass, the water, sky or building, people— everything that affects us; and to photograph that which I saw and have always felt. This, I know, is not a definite project because life itself is not definite, but it could be part of a lifetime project to help keep photography alive for me and with the hope that it would be alive for someone else.

From an early 1940s statement by Harry Callahan in an application for a fellowship from the Museum of Modern Art

Harry Callahan: Color 1941–1980, Matrix Publications, Providence, 1980.

Harry Callahan, Card shop, Chicago, ca. 1949

Harry Callahan, Multiple Exposure: Nude on Building, Providence, 1971

From late 1940s to early 1960s, his primary model was his wife, Eleanor; and after 1950, his daughter Barbara.

Harry Callahan, Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, 1953

I had photographed a nude model once or trice at the Detroit Camera Club in the early 1940s but it didn’t mean anything to me. It seemed as if you had to think, “What can I do that’s different from what everybody else is doing?” That didn’t make much sense to me. Also, I wanted to photograph the person for whom I had feeling. It wasn’t enough just to photograph a nude.

My wife, Eleanor, was willing to pose for me because she felt it was part of what I was doing, although it probably wasn’t any fun for her. At the time she didn’t seem to express anything one way or the other. My daughter, Barbara, got tired of being photographed, and, being a child, she expressed that it was not always fun. Eleanor didn’t make suggestions about locations. She didn’t pay attention to it. She did it only because I asked her, so she had no desire to make herself do more than she had to. She was just super-cooperative.

Jain Kelley, ed., Nude: Theory, Lustrum Press, New York, 1979, pp. 30, 36.

Harry Callahan: Color 1941–1980, Matrix Publications, Providence Rhode Island, 1980.

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