About This Artwork

Harry Callahan
American, 1912–1999

Chicago, 1950

Gelatin silver print
19.2 x 24.2 cm (7 9/16 x 9 1/2 in.)

The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment Fund, 1983.65

One of the most important figures in modern American photography, Harry Callahan was a humble and intuitive artist. He was largely self-taught, and as a teacher at Chicago’s Institute of Design (1946–61), he continued to learn by assigning photographic problems to students and then solving them himself. Influenced by both the classicism of Ansel Adams and the experimentalism of László Moholy-Nagy, Callahan’s photographs fuse formal precision and exploration with personal subjectivity. He photographed a wide range of subjects—female pedestrians lost in thought on Chicago’s streets; architectural facades; his wife, Eleanor; and weeds and grasses in snow. His high-contrast “line drawings” of natural subjects are spare, elegant distillations of form and line. Chicago, one of his best-known pictures, shows trees covered in snow along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. Although Callahan captured all of the detail available in the bark and snow in his negative, he purposefully printed this image in high contrast to emphasize the black-and-white forms of the trees against the stark backdrop. With a graphic sensibility typical of the Institute of Design, this picture reminds the viewer that a photograph is first and foremost an arrangement of tones and shapes on a piece of paper.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 294.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, “On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography,” May 7–July 30, 1989; traveled to The Art Institute of Chicago, September 16–November 26, 1989; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 21, 1989–February 25, 1990.

AIC, "A Measure of Nature: Landscape Photographs from the Permanent Collection,” May 30–September 7, 1998. (Sylvia Wolf)

AIC, "Taken by Design: Photographs from The Institute of Design, 1937–1971," March 2–May 12, 2002; traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, July 20–October 20, 2002; and Philadelphia Museum of Art, December 7, 2002–March 2, 2003. (David Travis and Elizabeth Siegel)

Tucson, Arizona, Center for Creative Photography, "Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work," January 27–May 7, 2006; traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, June 24–September 24, 2006.

Publication History

Greenough, Sarah, Joel Snyder, David Travis and Colin Westerbeck. 1989. “On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography.” Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art/Art Institute of Chicago. p. 387, pl. 306.

Wood, James N. 2000. "Treasures from The Art Institute of Chicago." Hudson Hills Press, Inc. p. 291.

Travis, David and Elizabeth Siegel. 2002. “Taken by Design: Photographs from the Institute of Design, 1937–1971,” Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago/University of Chicago Press. p. 97, cat. 27, pl. 62.

Cuno, James and Eloise W. Martin. 2009. "Art Institute of Chicago: Pocketguide." Art Institute of Chicago. p. 53.

Sharp, Robert V., Elizabeth Stepina and Susan E. Weidemeyer. 2009. "The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide." Art Institute of Chicago. p. 281.

Druick, Douglas and Robert V. Sharp. 2013. "The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide." Art Institute of Chicago. p. 295.




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