Sunday, January 29, 2012

Harry Callahan at 100

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through March 4, 2012

This exhibit celebrates not only the centenary of Callahan's birth, but also the recent gift of 45 photographs to the Gallery by the Callahan family.  Callahan was inspired by Ansel Adams and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus photographer, in his work.  Of course, I was reminded of the exhibit on the Bauhaus I saw in the Gallery's library a few months ago.

Callahn found that by experimenting with movement and exposures, he could "draw with light."  It's an interesting idea, and one that answers critics of photography as art.  If you're merely taking a picture of something, have you really created anything, in the same way that a painter or a sculptor does?  In my view, yes, you have.  It's no small trick to get the lighting just right, or frame the subject just so, or put certain elements together to tell the story you want to tell.  However, for those who think photography is nothing more than point and click, Callahan's work  belies that idea.  He moved his camera in order to create waves of light in his pictures - I'm not doing the pictures justice, but they resemble abstract art more than they look like the cars he photographed in Detroit.  His photographs of his wife, Eleanor, on the other hand, were brutally realistic.  He took pictures of her from angles which flatter no one, so one must admire her support of his art.

Callahan taught at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and he would try out the assignments he gave his students.  Proof that there's no better way to learn a subject than to teach it to someone else.  My favorite of the photos were of women walking down the streets of Chicago, lost in thought on their way to work or appointments.  I felt as if I could make up stories about each one, and isn't that part of what a great photographer does?  Lets one picture be worth a thousand words?

Verdict: Well worth seeing, whether you're familiar with Callahan's work or are, like me, new to it.

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