465 Huntington Avenue
Herb Ritts Gallery
Harry Callahan: American Photographer
November 21, 2009-July 3, 2010
Harry Callahan (1912-1999) was a major figure in 20th century photography. The tidy little retrospective of his work at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts shows why.
Of all the “ists” you can apply to Harry Callahan’s photographic style, formalist floats to the top of the list. Whether his subject was his wife Eleanor, landscapes, architecture, nature, or inventive darkroom technique, the results are a combination of a dispassionate eye and an unerring sense of composition.
The exhibition of 43 photographs spanning Callahan’s long career does a great job of highlighting the breadth of his interests and the brilliance with which he pursued them. Pretty good for a guy who began taking pictures when he was a shipping clerk in the late 1930s.
The photos are grouped according to Callahan’s interests named above. Several architectural color photographs appear almost banal compared to Callahan’s work in black and white.
Callahan’s darkroom sensibilities are apparent. Glance around the gallery and you’ll see plenty of prints using high contrast paper. Others are deeply toned photos, grays and blacks, almost gothic with the paucity of light emitted from them. A series of close-ups or Eleanor is followed by a grouping of her as a speck of light in a nocturnal shot or a reclining figure in a sprawling field.
The nude studies of his wife Eleanor have an air of detachment about them, as if he were more interested in composition than flesh. Eleanor’s body was wonderfully mature and un-sylph like. The way he prints the nudes of her force you look at them as abstractions or designs. His overexposed 1953 composition of her on a rumpled sheet, if rendered in oil paint could easily be classic Goya. Her complete comfort in front of the lens hints at the trust built in a 60-year marriage.His willingness to try new techniques (double exposures, sometimes printing a pinup from a girlie magazine over an austere landscape or building, and use of a flashlight to produce effects on his prints in the darkroom) endeared him to students of Rhode Island School of Design where he taught from 1961 to 1976.
We are awash in a world of color. Callahan's photographs show us how much can be achieved with just two: black, white, and the tones of gray in between.
Photos taken MFA
gallery by Paul Tamburello: hand held camera, no flash, shaky hands, lots of reflection from ambient light splashed all over the glass on the frame, give viewer an approximation of Callahan's work.