Eleanor, Port Huron, 1953

Intuitive and introverted in his work, Harry Callahan was a self-taught photographer, who became one of the most influential teachers and practitioners of the medium in twentieth-century America. He was a great innovator, who, throughout his career, used his photography as a deeply personal exploration of his own life. His wife, Eleanor Knapp, was one of his most frequent subjects and a constant source of creative inspiration.

Callahan met Knapp on a blind date in 1933 when both worked for Chrysler in Detroit: she as a secretary and he as a clerk in the parts department. They were married within three years of meeting. Callahan took up photography shortly after their marriage, and from the very start of his career Eleanor was his central model and muse.

Callahan sought, in his work, to combine his own lived experience of daily life with a formal analysis of line and light. Between the years of 1947 and 1957, he restlessly photographed both his wife and their daughter, Barbara, to produce photographs that were both personal and visually poetic. When photographing Eleanor and Barbara, he would meticulously arrange their figures to accentuate the particular lighting effects that he was interested in capturing.

Eleanor, Port Huron, 1953 is exemplary of Callahan’s mastery of light, form and composition, and his ability to anchor Eleanor’s body at the centre of it all. Eleanor’s delicately illuminated thigh aligns perfectly with the line of the roof’s gable. Pattern and texture are also handled expertly in this photograph, the textures are rich and tangible and the varying patterns are lyrically interwoven throughout the composition.

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