on 24 September 2004
* This is a review of the Sarah Greenough edited book *
Thanks to this book I have been able to re-visit the work of Harry Callahan, a photographer I had kinda written off in the distant past as a bit 'all over the place' and not quite 'on the edge' enough for my liking. Perhaps I've mellowed a bit in my taste but now I find it's a revelation to see the intensity of pure and beautiful photographic seeing displayed here.
The work shows many obvious influences, which he was happy to acknowledge himself, but it is still a sheer pleasure to see photographs of this creative and technical quality. That he was so openly receptive to other's ideas can either be seen as limiting or enlivening. In an interview I think he said he was 'released' by Ansel Adams who embodied his working practices. Also you can see the impact of Man Ray, Siskind, the Abstract Expressionist painters - well, the list goes on and on - his picture taking is a fervent of informed and inspired seeing. He was doing immaculate topographic photography years before Baltz, Adams and Joe Deal! Stunning.
I wonder that surely many photographers were in their turn influenced by Callahan? Winogrand, Meyerowitz, Arbus, Friedlander, Stephen Shore? I'm guessing and may be completely wrong but he certainly seemed to cover a helluva lot of territory - both literally and visually - right from the mid 1940's on.
In this work the personal aspect balances the formalism - and perhaps it was this softer side that I read as a bit sentimental when I was younger; such as the series of photos of his wife, Eleanor. She is invariably seen with the cool eye of a serious photographer, though. These are not simply family snaps and 'love' therein can be imagined but it is not what they are about. In fact, the over-riding sense of love and joy in all his pictures is for photography itself, and consequently he embraces everything through it.
As has been said elsewhere he experimented hugely and this shows in this superbly edited eclectic collection of images. If photography can inspire you then you will definitely find much to enjoy in this fabulous, classic edition.