Eleanor, Chicago

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

Date: 1949

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Dimensions: 19.5 x 24.5 cm (7 11/16 x 9 5/8 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Gift of Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1988

Accession Number: 1988.1161.2

Rights and Reproduction: © The Estate of Harry Callahan; Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York


Unlike what one might expect from a photographer associated with the Institute of Design in Chicago, Callahan's photographs rarely focus on form exclusively to highlight the two-dimensionality of the picture plane. Instead, his work finds an intersection between formal analysis and the experience of it in everyday life. One of his most frequent collaborators in exploring this intersection was his wife Eleanor, who served as subject and muse in many of his pictures. Callahan often juxtaposed her living, breathing, nude body with simple geometric shapes and linear arabesques, as here, or alternatively outside in the natural world. When Eleanor is in the picture, she is the anchor of its composition, knotting the inanimate objects together and transforming them into echoes of her body. In this picture, the radiator warmly reiterates the verticality of her body, while the spindly, calligraphic lines drawn on the wall reduce her soft curves into a concentrated essence. In other images by Callahan, the same curvilinear flourishes are found as plants against blank, white skies and as the edge of touching body parts in close-up images of Eleanor-elucidating Callahan's elemental, spiritual understanding of the way the visual world is constructed.