Harry Callahan exposes the urban experience through photography in his series City at Pace/MacGill Gallery. Running until 8 March, nearly 50 of Callahan’s gelatin silver prints will be on display, showcasing his exploration of the American city from the 1940s to 1970s. The photographer’s striking black-and-white photographs capture not only the physical landscape of the metropolis, but also reveal the state-of-mind of city dwellers.
Beginning his photographic career as an untrained amateur, Callahan left his job in the car industry to pursue his artistic interest. One of the foremost photographers of the 20th century, he was the first photographer chosen to represent the United States at the 1978 Venice Biennial and was later awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton in 1996. Key focuses of the artist’s work are his wife, daughter, nature and the city. Callahan returned to the same subjects repeatedly over his career in order to show their evolution and while his collections are thematically similar, he was keen to use different materials and approaches to capture his subject from a new, previously unseen point of view. His photos have a deeply personal focus, exploring the people and places of his own life.
An aesthetically experimental style is clear in City. The exhibited prints play with photographic technique to present the everyday city experience from unexpected perspectives. Not only documenting the physical landscape, Callahan was also interested in the psychology behind the city and part of the exhibit showcases his collection of full-frame women’s faces on the Chicago street. These photos capture pedestrians lost in thought and attempt to represent the urban space without actually showing the street. Close up perspectives and abstracted views of skyscrapers and pedestrians work against the conventions of the genre and demonstrate his inventive and artistic style. The images of streets, scenes and buildings show the photographer’s interest in line, form, light and darkness as he played with contrast, reduction of form and exposure. The unusual style of Callahan’s work introduced a language of formal abstraction into the US photography scene in a period where realism was the predominant aesthetic.
Harry Callahan: City , January 9 – March 8, Pace/MacGill Gallery, 32 East 57th Street, 9th floor, New York City, 10022.
1. Chicago, 1961 © The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
2. New York, 1974 © The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.