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Collecting the American Civil War


Sign Detail, New York

Harry Callahan (American, Detroit, Michigan 1912–1999 Atlanta, Georgia)

Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.5 x 21 cm (6 1/2 x 8 1/4 in.) Mount: 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2004
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© The Estate of Harry Callahan; Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
  • Description

    This fragmentary view of lettering on a poster glued to a brick wall marks a pivotal moment in Callahan's career. Born into a family of humble means, he was
    self-taught as a photographer; in 1938, at age twenty-six, he bought his first camera and joined the Chrysler Camera Club at the automotive works where he held an accounting job. Three years later, a workshop and lecture by Ansel Adams at the Detroit Photo Guild opened Callahan's eyes to a way of making pictures that departed from camera-club pictorialism and taught instead "tone and texture and no monkey business."
    Realizing that this "straight" approach and the 8-by-10-inch view camera perfectly married his curiosity about the world with his inborn sense of precision, Callahan embarked on a "personal fellowship" in 1945: a trip to New York during which he met Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Paul Strand, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Minor White, and others. His visit to a Stuart Davis retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art prompted him to take to the streets to explore the city's symphony of signs. Callahan's sure eye for graphic design and perfect technique create a lively dynamic between the ideal geometries of modern typography and the rippling surface of the poster. This elegant found abstraction marks the full emergence of Callahan's cool classic style and predates by five years the first "torn poster" photographs of his colleague Aaron Siskind.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed in pencil on the mount, recto BR beneath image: "Harry Callahan"

  • Provenance

    estate of the artist; [Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York]

  • See also