Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Deceased--Eleanor Callahan

Eleanor Callahan
June 13th, 1916 to February 28th, 2012

"Eleanor Callahan, Photographic Muse, Dies at 95"


Richard B. Woodward

February 28th, 2012

The New York Times

Eleanor Callahan, the muse for her husband, Harry Callahan, whose varied and sensual photographs of her taken over more than 50 years can be said to rank with Alfred Stieglitz’s of Georgia O’Keeffe, died on Tuesday in a hospice in Atlanta. She was 95.

The cause was cancer, said her daughter, Barbara Callahan Hollinger.

With her raven hair and ripe figure, Eleanor Callahan is one of the most recognizable models in the history of 20th-century photography, an inseparable part of both the life and work of one of its most renowned artists. Clothed and standing among trees in a public park, or nude and turned to the wall while clutching a radiator in an empty room, she served as a formal element within Mr. Callahan’s austere compositions as well as a symbol of warm, breathing womanhood. From 1941 to his death in 1999, she allowed herself to be photographed by him, without complaint, hundreds of times.

Eleanor Annetta Knapp was born on June 13, 1916, to an electrician and a homemaker in Royal Oak, Mich. The middle of three daughters and the only one not to go to college, she supported herself (and later her family) with her shorthand and typing.

She met Harry Callahan on a blind date in 1933 when both worked for Chrysler in Detroit. She was a 17-year-old secretary, and he was a 21-year-old clerk in the parts department. They married three years later after he dropped out of college, mainly because he had missed being with her. Although he began to photograph earnestly in 1938, he often credited a 1941 lecture he attended by Ansel Adams with having “freed” him to pursue a career as an artist.

With no money between them to speak of, it was economical for the frugal Mr. Callahan to feature his wife in his pictures.

“I never initiated any of the poses myself,” she said in a 2006 interview with the curator Julian Cox. “Everything, photographically, was purely from Harry.” She confessed to being “a little uncomfortable about frontal nudity,” but noted that “there was not too much of that.”

In 1950, Barbara, their only child, was born, and soon mother and child were appearing together in pictures that are themselves signal images of familial tenderness.

The Callahans were married for 63 years. “And they were, I’d say, all nice ones,” Mrs. Callahan said. “We never had any real fights.”

The trust and interdependence between them has been chronicled in several exhibitions, most recently in “Harry Callahan: Eleanor,” which opened in 2007 at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; and also throughout “Harry Callahan at 100,” the retrospective now at the National Gallery in Washington.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Callahan is survived by two grandchildren.

As the family moved from Detroit to Chicago to Providence, R.I., Mrs. Callahan managed her husband’s business affairs, leaving him all the time he wanted to be an artist. For most of their early life she earned more money as an office assistant than he did as a teacher. But even after the 1970s, when he became a lionized figure and had offers from many other models, he seldom photographed anyone but her.

“He just liked to take the pictures of me,” she told an interviewer in 2008. “In every pose. Rain or shine. And whatever I was doing. If I was doing the dishes or if I was half asleep. And he knew that I never, never said no. I was always there for him. Because I knew that Harry would only do the right thing.”

Photography Now...

Callahan, Harry
American, 1912-99

Born in Detroit, Callahan studied at Michigan State University before going to work for the Chrysler Motor Parts Corporation. In 1936, he married Eleanor Knapp, who later became the subject of some of his most important images. Callahan bought his first camera in 1938, and credits Ansel Adams' visit to the Detroit Photo Guild in 1941 as pivotal in his decision to become a photographer. Although he had almost no formal artistic training he received encouragement early in his career from such luminaries as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. At the invitation of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Callahan joined the staff of the Institute of Design in Chicago (later known as the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1946. In 1948 his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Self-taught in photography, Harry Callahan enjoys [Callahan died in 1999] a long and influential career which began in 1938. After studying engineering at Michigan State University he worked first for the Chrysler Corporation and then at the General Motors Photographic Laboratories in Detroit. Callahan's early photographic work was influenced by Ansel Adams, whom Callahan heard lecture, and by the life of Alfred Stieglitz. In 1946 he met Moholy-Nagy and joined the faculty of Chicago's Institute of Design, becoming chairman of the photography department in 1949. He left Chicago in 1961 to become chairman of the photography department at the Rhode Island School of Design, serving in that capacity until 1973 and continuing to teach there until 1977.

Harry Callahan's work is an exception, for it draws us ever more insistently inward toward the center of Callahan's private sensibility. This sensibility is expressed in his perception of subject matter that is remarkably personal and restricted in its range. For thirty years Callahan has photographed his wife and child, the streets of the cities in which he has lived, and details of the pastoral landscapes into which he has periodically escaped - materials so close at hand, so universally and obviously accessible, that one might have supposed that a dedicated photographer could exhaust their potential in a fraction of that time. Yet Callahan has repeatedly made these simple experiences new again by virtue of the precision of his feeling.

The point is not merely that Callahan has responded faithfully as a photographer to the quality of his own life, or merely, even, that photography has been his method of focusing the meaning of that life. The point is that for Harry Callahan photography has been a way of living - his way of meeting and making peace with the day.

Callahan's work is personally oriented; many of his pictures artistically interpret his family relationships, especially portraits of his wife, Eleanor, and daughter, Barbara. His early work experimented with representational abstraction; recent work in color includes additional subject matter, both city and landscapes as well as multiple exposures.

Harry Callahan [Wikipedia]

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