Harry Callahan (American, 19121999)
Gelatin silver prints; Each 7 3/4 x 9 9/16 in. (19.6 x 24.3 cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1996 (1996.291a–c)
© The Estate of Harry Callahan; Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
The landscape is one of Callahan's central themes in a remarkably diverse career in photography that includes portraiture, architecture, and street photography. Here, studying the Chicago beach as if it were a Zen garden, Callahan focuses on the delicate surf line, two or three stones, and the cone-shaped interference patterns created by water returning back to the lake. The elegant simplicity and planarity of the photographs (representative of Callahan's earliest work) suggests a reading of the subtle rhythms that develop in the intervals between the pictures. The work evokes a sense of quiet contemplation, formal perfection, and perhaps even material transcendence.
A masterpiece from the period of Callahan's interest in Japanese minimalism, it was made in the year he began teaching at Chicago's Institute of Design (formerly, the New Bauhaus). Callahan wrote of New Photographers, a contemporaneous traveling exhibition (194648) organized by the Museum of Modern Art, that he hoped his work would contain "a small pattern of my feeling about living." These exquisite photographs are material revelations of the artist's intentions.