Critics’ Picks

Eleanor, Chicago, 1948, gelatin silver print, 7 9/16 x 9 9/16".


Harry Callahan

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree Street, NE
September 8–December 9

Eleanor Callahan acted as her husband’s muse for over twenty years. While not his only subject, he photographed her often. In focusing exclusively on images in which she appears, exhibition curator Julian Cox encapsulates Harry Callahan’s photographic explorations between the 1940s and the 1960s and presages many of the concepts and techniques he would investigate throughout his sixty-year career.

Early contact prints show Callahan training his camera on Eleanor’s nude form. The tightly framed, high-contrast images turn buttocks or folded arms into geometric shapes or simple lines. In later nudes, he moves his large-format camera backward, creating a relationship between Eleanor’s full form and the horizontal line of a bed or the curve of a wall. Callahan’s exacting compositions are also visible in his sweeping views of the seaside, lush parks, and cityscapes where Eleanor (sometimes with their daughter, Barbara, in tow) is regularly positioned in the center of the frame, juxtaposed with rather than situated in her surroundings. These provide a fascinating connection to Callahan’s multiple-exposure work, in which, after physically altering the mechanics of his camera, he superimposed Eleanor’s naked form on scenes of the natural environment. Each of the approximately 125 photographs included here, nearly all of which he printed himself, is an elegant expression of Callahan’s love affair with both his wife and the photographic medium.