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Elemental Landscapes: Photographs by Harry Callahan

June 23–September 30, 2001

Showcasing two gifts to the museum in honor of the 125th anniversary and concentrating exclusively on landscape photographs, this exhibition features selections from a rich group of 100 prints by Harry Callahan purchased with funds donated by Museum Trustee John Medveckis, and from a promised gift of twenty-one of the artist’s landscapes donated by Susan MacGill in the artist's memory.

The natural landscape was a subject that occupied photographer Harry Callahan (American, 1912–1999) throughout his career, and examples range from a 1942 scene in Detroit, Michigan, to a 1991 view of trees in Atlanta, Georgia. After buying a camera in 1938 and joining the Detroit Camera Guild, Callahan was inspired by a 1941 workshop by photographer Ansel Adams, then already known for his Western landscape vistas. Adams’s small, precise nature studies especially appealed to Callahan. Because Adams had mastered the grand views of mountains and waterfalls, Callahan felt free to concentrate his own attention on these more intimate scenes.

These gifts to the collection bring the museum’s holdings to a total of 147 photographs by Callahan.

Main Building

About the Artist

Harry Callahan, who grew up in a rural area near Detroit, Michigan, had a powerful attraction to his home landscape. He turned his camera to fields and open spaces, photographing the continuities rather than the dramatic features of this landscape. He liked to bring the camera close in a way that removed a scene from its relation to earth and sky. These abstractions challenge notions of landscape by presenting a small slice of the world in infinite detail. The artist’s scrutiny of unexceptional places is full of wonder. Callahan took many of his photographs within proximity of one another and the exhibition explores his interest in these variations. Though each photograph is a work of art in itself, many of the works in the exhibition will be shown in the context of related images taken around the same time.

Also known for his dynamic urban views, photographs of his wife Eleanor, and extensive color work, Callahan enjoyed a distinguished career as a teacher. In 1946, he joined the faculty at Chicago’s Institute of Design. He was invited in 1961 to found and direct a graduate program in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, where he worked until retirement in 1977. One of the most important post-war instructors in photography, Callahan taught some of the best talents in the medium today, including Linda Connor, Emmet Gowin, and Ray K. Metzker.


Katherine Ware, Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

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