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

Date: 1946

Medium: Gelatin silver prints

Dimensions: 19.6 x 24.3 cm. (7 3/4 x 9 9/16 in.), each

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1996

Accession Number: 1996.291a–c

Rights and Reproduction: © 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 (1946-48) 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.