National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago Harry Callahan (artist)
American, 1912 - 1999
Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, 1953
gelatin silver print
sheet: 20.2 x 25.2 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of Susan P. MacGill
Not on View
From the Tour: Modern Portraits in Photography
Object 11 of 13

Harry Callahan (1912-1999) always made place the measure of his artistic sensibility. In Detroit, where he was born and raised, Callahan focused on snow, the Great Lakes, and industrial cityscapes. While at the Institute of Design in Chicago (1946-1961), Callahan took advantage of that city's canyonlike urban core, as well as its dense pedestrian life and lakeshore geography. Later on, at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence (1961-1983), Callahan concentrated on expanses of beach and shoreline waves, among other subjects. In each case, the artist pushed the notion of clarity nearly to a paradoxical illegibility, exploring extremes of white and black as well as subtle juxtapositions of gray in his quest to describe liminal forms of abstraction.

Callahan's wife Eleanor and their daughter Barbara (born 1952) served repeatedly as his models. Although not creating a formal portrait, it could be said that Callahan plays with the category of portraiture in these works rather than abandoning it altogether. Where the paintings of Edward Hopper (1882-1967), for instance, afford a distance from the anonymous loneliness they depict, Callahan's real bond of affection for his wife and daughter, who are recognizable physically and are named in the title, pulls us in as well. The two females stand isolated in the chill light of winter, separated from the photographer by an impenetrable shadow. If we dismiss the connection between him and them, hardly anything remains to look at in this inky scene; if we meditate on that connection, then we strain to find their faces, peering through the darkness until we can hardly see.

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