INTERVIEW: "Harry M. Callahan Interview, February 13, 1975"

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ROBERT BROWN: . . . you needed that.


ROBERT BROWN: The documentary experience he had?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Not that he wanted to do it anymore but he could teach it. He didn’t really want to come to Chicago at all.

ROBERT BROWN: He didn’t? Well, he was pretty involved with the upsurge of abstract art and everything in Chicago, wasn’t he?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right, yeah. But he was awful sick of teaching high school and that’s one of the reasons he came. He didn’t want to leave New York.

ROBERT BROWN: Did you learn, or did it sort of percolate to you through him, something about what was going on in New York in painting?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh yeah! Oh, the school did an awful lot for me that way. There was a fellow by the name of Hugo Weber. He used to try to tell me about . . . like cross-country skiing. He was a Swiss. He knew Arp and Maillol . . . he knew really everybody there in Paris. He’d studied in Paris, and he knew [Sigfried] Gideon and, I don’t know, he knew all kinds of people. He knew the Bauhaus. He and Aaron meant a great deal to me in terms of . . . helping me find out what’s going on in the world. Yeah, Aaron introduced us to all those Abstract Expressionist guys.

ROBERT BROWN: Did they come out to Chicago . . . or did you criss-cross to New York?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Sometimes. And this Hugo would try to get them there. They got de Kooning out there when they could. I don’t know whether they had Motherwell. I think they had Franz Kline. Then they had Matta, I know that. Well, Hugo was very, very . . . he had a nose for everything, you know. And being a European, too, he had a more, you know, an experience to bring over.

ROBERT BROWN: Your experience was always pretty much worked out by yourself?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Right, yeah. [chuckles]

ROBERT BROWN: One thing would seem to happen to you.


ROBERT BROWN: Well, at least here [referring to a chronology], indicating the one time that Siskind described your restlessness.


ROBERT BROWN: What do you suppose he means by that? Or what do you think of yourself as “a restless person?”

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well. that’s one reason I couldn’t enjoy Puerto Rico. [laughing] You got stir-crazy. Yeah, I think I am. And photography is the one way out, you know.

ROBERT BROWN: And yet you stayed at Illinois fifteen years. You’ve been here in Providence now . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Fourteen years.

ROBERT BROWN: Right, So it isn’t unstable.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, I see what you mean.

ROBERT BROWN: When you’re working, you seem to find stability in your work.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, he means that I’m restless in the head.

ROBERT BROWN: In your photography.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I don’t know what he actually means by that.

ROBERT BROWN: Sure. Kind of open-ended, could be interpreted several ways.


ROBERT BROWN: Your family . . . you had a child then about this time.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yes. ’51. ’50.

ROBERT BROWN: And it’s around that time that you begin using your wife and later your daughter as, if not the leading, at least, very prominent, images in your work.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, I . . ..

ROBERT BROWN: Can you explain this? Was this related to some new orientation in your work?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I’d photographed my wife before. I had been photographing her for a long time. But, yes, I think that we’d been married, let’s see, fourteen years before our daughter was born. So this was a real surprise. We had never tried to . . . well, for many years we hadn’t tried to prevent having any children. But we’d just forgotten about it because it wasn’t happening. [chuckling] So it was a very exciting thing. I thought that I would really like to photograph her and I photographed them both. I photographed them an awful lot, for about five years. But I didn’t get very many good pictures. I got a few. But it wasn’t very . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: What were you trying to accomplish through that, do you think? Celebration or wonder or . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, it just opened up a whole new world to me. I mean, a child, you know, I just . . . I never paid . . . to me, before that child’s voices didn’t make much sense, and then you start hearing them. You know, you hear all kinds of things, everything that . . . I just think that one . . . that I was happy to be a part of something that was so strong and powerful as that.

ROBERT BROWN: And part of your being a part was to have that camera there.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right. I felt that was important, too.

ROBERT BROWN: Have you . . . with these and other photographs, do you always want to share your perceptions by exhibiting these photographs?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah. Right.

ROBERT BROWN: You’ve no qualms about that? You’ve always wanted to put out there what you’ve got?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, um hmm.

ROBERT BROWN: No possessiveness about it?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: [chuckles] No. I think . . . I would kind of guess, maybe, that Stieglitz photographed Georgia O’Keeffe and that might have influenced me, you know. Like I think . . . I don’t know whether I’d photographed Eleanor before that. It might have been that you just normally sort of photograph your wife, I can’t say.


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: But to carry it to the extent I did, I could possibly have been like . . . you know, it might have been Stieglitz in the . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: But it’s only “a might have been.” You don’t know . . .

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, I don’t know. I never thought of it.

ROBERT BROWN: . . . your own momentum and excitement at that time about that.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yes. And I also think, in terms of the daughter, even there that could be somebody like Steichen, that felt very strong about the documentary part of photography. But I didn’t want to document my daughter in that sense. I wanted to make pictures that I felt, oh dear, intuitive and not trying to say how they act and stuff like that. I wasn’t interested in that.

ROBERT BROWN: Now, you brought up . . . several times, and you used the word “intuitive”.


ROBERT BROWN: What do you think you mean when you . . . this is a process?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, this just sort of led to something unconsciously or . . . that’s about all I could tell you!

ROBERT BROWN: But mainly when you go about something it’s unconscious of . . . you don’t know what the result might be, or do you? You only know when you finally look at that print?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I know that, for instance, if I want to, then, go photograph on the beach or something, then I’ll walk around the beach and all of a sudden I see something. And then that’s the beginning to start working on something, and then I’ll maybe photograph that and walk down the beach a little farther and find something very similar, and then keep working on that sort of a little theme, whatever it might be. And then the next time I might go to the beach and I might say, “Well, I want to go back and do that.” So I mean I don’t how you put the process together but . . .

ROBERT BROWN: But at the time you have a moment when you . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: . . . when something happens, right.

ROBERT BROWN: This is it.


ROBERT BROWN: Then when you bring out your camera, you’re recording this? Or what are you trying to do? Express it? Capture it or what?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I think all the time I’m doing it I feel like I’m adventuring in some way. Looking for something. I’m not sure. Sometimes things look like they ought to be good, you know, I mean something looks right. But that doesn’t always make it come out right either. And sometimes it doesn’t . . . you don’t know what it’s going to be and it comes out real good and that starts you on a whole new way of thinking and seeing.

ROBERT BROWN: You’re really not capturing. You can never quite get it.


ROBERT BROWN: It’s never quite what you want it to be?


ROBERT BROWN: I suppose sometimes you smother it . . .


ROBERT BROWN: . . . as you’ve said, sort of a boring kind of neutral thing? And then at other times it’s . . . ?


ROBERT BROWN: You, then, after you’ve made that image I assume you never do now, since your early impressions with Adams begin manipulating the prints to any extent at all?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah, I do . . . I may print it very contrasty or I may print it very soft. I don’t like the idea that there’s supposed to be a standard way for a print. I mean, we make the students do it in the beginning so that they learn to control.


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: But, after that, we want them to print any way they want to print. There’s some people think they’re great printers. Well, I don’t know, that doesn’t mean much to me, because there isn’t just one way to print as far I’m concerned. So I do manipulate in that sense. A print may be muddy, or dark, or light . . . so this is . . . I don’t trust . . . . Reality has a little bit to do with it. Sometimes that’s a little like a clue. But I can destroy reality; it doesn’t bother me either, you know. And I mean, it doesn’t have to look like snow. [chuckles]

ROBERT BROWN: It sometimes does?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Sometimes it does, right.

ROBERT BROWN: But you enhance the reality?


ROBERT BROWN: And again by some intuitive . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right, that’s right.

ROBERT BROWN: What are you trying to say, do you think? I mean, you say you’re not preaching, I know. But what do you suppose . . . there’s something that drawn out.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I think that it’s the tradition of art that, say, Beethoven contributes something to music and it took time, and I sort of feel like in this one way that photography is like music in a sense that almost everybody can have it if they want it. You know, I mean, you can’t have a Michelangelo or something like that, but you can have a whole man’s life on a set of records, which to me is exciting. In which you could have maybe a whole man’s life in a body of photography. And this is really exciting to me. This means that . . . you know, this sets up a new tradition, and everybody can have it, or a museum can have it easy, anyway. Every museum can have it. Maybe every person can’t have it, because now, just like everything is ridiculous, the cost of photography is getting very high, too. [chuckles]


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: It’s a funny thing about the Bauhaus thing saying use the modern technology, but a Mies chair, I don’t know what it is now, but it used to be around a thousand dollars fifteen years ago.

ROBERT BROWN: They never did get them mass-produced, did they?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: [laughing] Well, I don’t . . . yeah, maybe not. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know whether they could mass-produce them, they’re made so well. But I mean those kind of things; they were designed to do that but it didn’t come out that way.

ROBERT BROWN: But there is . . . in photography, at least, you can approach that and produce it?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, that’s right, yeah.

ROBERT BROWN: And this is one of the main joys that you can get out of it, the fact that you can . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I want to do a life’s photography. And I want to grow in it and I know that I learn more all the time, and I know that that has something to do with it.

ROBERT BROWN: Do you also then go over your own corpus, your own body of work, for changes?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, not necessarily. I feel like that the first decent picture I made may be as good as the last I’ll make, but it’s going to be different, you know. That’s all. I don’t think in terms of getting better in that sense. Maybe getting more broad.

ROBERT BROWN: Do you ever find yourself going and doing tricks?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I don’t feel that . . . I do multiple exposures but I’ve always done it, and it’s always just seemed natural to me. I haven’t done it for years now but I did it for a long time.

ROBERT BROWN: But you’re not a calculating person about it, I mean in terms of the results?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No, I know that when I make a multiple exposure, I want to put certain things together, that’s all I know.

ROBERT BROWN: You’re an expressionist, right? You’re not a . . . you don’t analyze it?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No, probably not, I don’t think I . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: Of course, as a teacher you have to do some of that, don’t you?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Not much. I avoid it. Aaron might more. Maybe [he] would.

ROBERT BROWN: How do you teach?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I guess I . . . I developed a series of problems that I found that worked good with the second-year people. I don’t do any of the first-year stuff anymore. I have the graduates and the second-year people. And so I have some assignments I give them, and I’m very concerned in that year that they develop their technique. I make a big issue out of that. Or their good print quality — what we call good print quality.

ROBERT BROWN: You closely supervise the process, right?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No, not then. We do that in the beginning, first year, watch very close. After that, they get very good.

ROBERT BROWN: You look at their results?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah. We meet every week and look at the work.

ROBERT BROWN: You say, “Look, you didn’t control this.”

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right, sure. We meet every week and go over the work. And in the graduate program, they do nearly all the talking. We just get together and we create a sort of a, well, environment for them, and they do nearly all of the talking. They put up their work and they attack each other.

ROBERT BROWN: Is this the way you developed it out at Chicago, too?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No, in Chicago Aaron and I, we stuck with that project type thing that Chermayeff found.

ROBERT BROWN: The assignment kind of thing?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, they had to state a project for their Master’s degree.


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: And they had to carry it out and come up with a body of work. But I didn’t really like that after a number of years.

ROBERT BROWN: Why didn’t you, do you think?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I wanted to make it completely free. I wanted to just let them work and come in every week with work, that’s all. Or every two weeks.

ROBERT BROWN: Do you suppose your reliving in that, or expressing with your students what was your development?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: What I . . . sure, right, sure. That’s the way I believe in it. But in the beginning I think they have to be taught. No, Aaron and I sort of . . . we used the Bauhaus the first year, and then I let them . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: Any project, you mean?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, doing all what photography is like: texture, tone, and multiple exposure, and all that stuff. And then I started, usually with the second-year people, and I did the different assignments that I found that I liked. And then Aaron would really start . . . Aaron would sort of do the third year in sort of project kind of things, had them do little things. He usually did the third year and the fourth year. We figured it out that the first year was the, well, the Bauhaus foundation course. Then the second year was what I did. And then the third year was what we called traditional: portraiture, architectural, all the sort of journalistic kind of photography. And Aaron did most of that. Aaron made some big projects, he made one great big one on Sullivan’s architecture. So Aaron did a lot of project things like that. He kind of liked that stuff. And then the senior year we let them sort of experiment and come out with something of their own.

ROBERT BROWN: Did you have field trips?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah. We used to take them. We used to do quite a bit of that.

ROBERT BROWN: You were doing a lot of nature things in the Fifties.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Yeah, we used to take them to . . . we’d go to another city sometimes, just stay in a motel or something and photograph. And we used to take them to Rochester once in a while, to the George Eastman House.

ROBERT BROWN: To look at the panorama of the past?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right.

ROBERT BROWN: It was a good chance to see contemporary work, too, from all over, wasn’t it?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Yeah, we do that here. I came here and I was alone, and I started this department here.

ROBERT BROWN: Here at the Rhode Island School of Design?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. So that was one of the first things I wanted to do is to get them to the other stuff because just talking doesn’t do it all. I wanted them to see where . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: Sure. Do you ever have the feeling that your students are echoes of yourself? Does this bother you?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: There used to be a certain amount in the Institute of Design because they didn’t see other stuff. That was the trouble.

ROBERT BROWN: Yeah. It was a hothouse, some way or another?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: [laughs] Yeah, and they either became Bauhaus-type photographers or sometimes they would copy little things like Aaron and I did. I mean, here it’s hardly any like that. They see all kinds of photography, and that’s really exciting because they do nearly all their own. I mean they’re influenced . . .


ROBERT BROWN: Why do you think you came in the Rhode Island School of Design in ’64? Is that when you came?


ROBERT BROWN: ’61. And you started photography here?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yes. Well, they had a course.


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: The had a course where they taught graphic designers, but they had no department.

ROBERT BROWN: Oh, well, you mean, in other words, it was photography which was to be applied then to general design?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: It was just to teach the graphic designers how to do photography so that they could use it in their graphic design. So that they might . . . you know, they might photograph something to put on a page.

ROBERT BROWN: Were you fairly bold, then, in leaving Chicago and coming here? Why did you leave?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, it was a big deal for me. I left tenure and everything else in Chicago. Well, I think the main thing was that I . . . while I was in Chicago in 1956, the Graham Foundation gave me this award and they promoted travel. They wanted to encourage travel. And everybody kept saying, “You know, you’ve got to go someplace.” And I thought about going up in northern Michigan or something. But people kept saying, “Go to Europe,” and so my wife said, “Well, let’s go.” So we went to Europe and that was such a tremendous effect on me.


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. When I came back to Chicago after a year there, I mean I couldn’t forget Europe and . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: Well, what was the effect, do you think, of Europe on you in ’56?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, we went in ’57 and ’58. Well, I don’t know, I just never realized anything could be like that. It’s all new. It’s just a really remarkable . . . and living in the — we lived there for nine months in a little town in the South of France — and just to see how people lived in the old buildings. And then, of course, you see all the paintings. We traveled all over for about . . . well, we stayed two months in Germany. We had a place to stay there, and we did an awful lot of traveling from there. And then we got to the South of France, and then we did a lot of traveling, you know, on vacations — out daughter was in school there.

ROBERT BROWN: What do you think triggered off this interest? You mentioned earlier the place with some history. Is that what . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Oh, yeah, that must have had an awful lot to do with it, right, yeah, history . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: What were you mainly photographing during that year in Europe?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I did an awful lot of nature and then a lot of pictures of people on the streets, in this little town of Aix. But I guess I came out mostly with the nature things.

ROBERT BROWN: It was the nature that was different from the . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No. Well, it was, yeah. But that wasn’t the point. I don’t know why. The towns were so picturesque to me. I found that very difficult.

ROBERT BROWN: Very difficult. What do you mean?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, well, everything looked pretty, you know.

ROBERT BROWN: You were . . . it was a trap you could have . . . .

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Get in to, yeah. It doesn’t bother me to go anymore now, but it did then. It really bothered me. So I suppose that might have had a lot to do with photographing nature.

ROBERT BROWN: You wanted to be severe with yourself. You didn’t want to produce picture postcards.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Something like that. It really affected me, I know that. Well, it was just a . . . it was a marvelous year, too, but in another way. I was completely free from everything in Chicago. We put what little junk we had in storage and went over there. And I didn’t have to get up and go to class or anything like that. I had a routine. I’d go out in the morning and photograph and then come home and have lunch, develop my film, and then print it after the film was dry. And we did this every day except if something came up. Well, very, very rarely anything did come up, except if we wanted to take a trip to Cannes or Nice or something like that. But even there I would photograph.

ROBERT BROWN: Your daughter being in school didn’t . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, that . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: You had to sort of stay there?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, and that was good, that was real good.

ROBERT BROWN: That forced you to stay in one spot rather than start wandering through . . .

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Oh, yeah, I wouldn’t . . . it would have been terrible to wander.

ROBERT BROWN: Because you are a guy that . . . . Well, when you were in Chicago, you’d go out different places, right along, as much as you could.


ROBERT BROWN: This was the highest grant ever given to a photographer. How did you come to get it?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I don’t know . . . just people . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: Did you apply for it?


ROBERT BROWN: Or did your school encourage you to do it?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No. I got called into Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and the fellow said they wanted to talk to me. They were thinking of giving out some grants, and he just wanted to know what I would do if I got one. And I said, “Well, I’d photograph. That’s what I what to do.” And, so he asked me a whole bunch of questions. I think Joe Goto — he got one, too — and I think he must have been there before me because he said, “There was another guy in here. He talked just like you. He wanted to do his own work.” [laughs] Well, anyway, so he said, “We don’t want you to get excited about this, because we haven’t made any decisions or anything, but we’ll let you know next Saturday what happens.” And they called Saturday and said that they were delighted to tell me that I had received this grant. And at that time it was a lot more. I mean, ten thousand was quite a bit of money in 1956.


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: And so . . . we ended up by having to borrow money when we got back. But we were really gone for fifteen months.

ROBERT BROWN: Then you returned . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah, then Chicago didn’t look like very much to me and I always was excited about Chicago. I still do like Chicago, but it just has this . . . and we were kind of tired of the school and the same thing. When I got the opportunity to come here, I came. It was a scary thing for me to do, because I was sort of half the time thinking I might go back to Chicago, you know, because . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: What did you like about Chicago, I mean to photograph?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I think the thing is that . . . well, I liked all the buildings and the people and stuff like that, and the lake. But I think the thing is that, for people in Detroit — or Michigan — Chicago is the big city, not Detroit. And, of course, New York is the big city. Chicago was the one we all talked about. So I think that’s the reason. It just had a kind of something I liked about it.

ROBERT BROWN: It was supposed to be a metropolis and they made it.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right. [laughs]

ROBERT BROWN: In the early Fifties you taught briefly at Black Mountain College. Was that something of the same setup as the . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, that was . . . Aaron and I went down there and we just . . . they just invited us to come down. It was a really loose thing. They just said, “Well, what do you want to do?” So everybody that was brought down says, “Well, I’ll take a class Monday morning or Wednesday afternoon,” or something like that.

ROBERT BROWN: so that wasn’t a very deep . . .

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No, it didn’t hardly . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: . . . impact on your career.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No. Well, it was a . . . yeah, it did. I found it very good that way. I mean, there was an entirely another way the school was run. And I was amazed because it was a pretty brilliant idea of the guy who started that school. It just didn’t work out, that’s all. But they did everything. They had music, dance, and everything. Art. We lived in a house they built, too.

ROBERT BROWN: Was there any particular person who interested you moving out of Chicago and coming to Providence?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah, Dave Strout. He was a friend I’d known for years. And he was the dean and vice president here, of the Rhode Island School of Design. And he wrote me and asked me if I . . . said in the letter that, “I know we couldn’t pry you loose from the Institute of Design, but could I suggest somebody?” And I wrote back and said that I would like to come myself.

ROBERT BROWN: You decided pretty quickly. Did you know this school at all before you came over?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No. No. I was . . . I don’t think this school was anywhere near as . . . well, I mean they didn’t accept photography like the Institute of Design did.

ROBERT BROWN: But you knew it was a fairly well-rounded arts school?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I had faith in Dave Strout. I knew he was smart. Well, I came out and talked to some people before I decided anything. And I liked the people I talked to and everything. But it was hard in the beginning because photography wasn’t accepted at all. It is now. [chuckles]

ROBERT BROWN: Sure it is. But soon you were able to work out a curriculum here and . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I worked the same as Aaron and I did. It’s just about the last year that we’ve really gotten it, because it’s taken years to get the people to fill it, and we keep getting . . . . See, when I first came, I taught photography in the junior year, and then as soon as I could, I got it down to the second year so that’d be three years, and now we’ve gotten it into the first year. So there’s a whole, and that’s just happened in the last couple years. So we’ve now got it back to the way Aaron and I did it in Chicago. [chuckles]

ROBERT BROWN: Which is not an applied thing?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No, but we have . . . there’s one fellow that I brought here — he’s now the head — he worked in Canada for many years on a magazine there and he did all kinds of work — illustration, architecture, all journalistic, everything. It was a real magazine like, maybe like Time. Not quite. It wasn’t that, but it was a newspaper magazine. You know, like we used to have This Week or something like that.


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: And so I wanted him to come here to do that, but do that in a good way — you know, rather than teaching trade school type things. So he does a lot of that. And so I say we’re using the term “applied” a little bit, you know, just that they get the experience.

ROBERT BROWN: Um hmm. Well, how regularly do you exhibit?


ROBERT BROWN: How regularly do you exhibit? Do you always have things on the road someplace?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, well, now, see, Aaron and I are at Light Gallery . . .


HARRY M. CALLAHAN: . . . and we’re supposed to have an exhibit every year, I think.

ROBERT BROWN: And that’s an exclusive, really?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. I think it’s . . . yeah, I’ve been in it every year, I know.

ROBERT BROWN: Some years you were in the Hallmark Gallery.


ROBERT BROWN: Was that a good relationship?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah. That was Dave Strout, too. That was a real good match. That was a big exhibit and it traveled. And the George Eastman House has an exhibit that travels — a couple of them, I guess.

ROBERT BROWN: Do you ever go to the openings or anything connected with these?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, but I don’t really like to very much. And the last exhibit I had at the Light Gallery, I asked him if I could skip that reception business. He said, “Sure, I’m glad to.” He didn’t want it either.

ROBERT BROWN: Have you participated very much in symposia or seminars?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No. No. No. I don’t think I’ve done it in, well, maybe only one in Chicago. I’m no good in that at all. I seem to block out.

ROBERT BROWN: Yeah. But you even in the beginning were reacting, like you mentioned Siegel, who was so articulate . . .


ROBERT BROWN: . . . I would expect that. The publication of those books, Other Photography, and all of that, then, you helped with that, or you’ve been involved in that?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yes. The Black Book is the big one. I collected all the pictures and they put it together. Then the Museum of Modern Art book, John Szarkowski . . . we just sort of worked together on that. I wanted to put in many things that weren’t in the other book, if I could . . . you know, where, if there were two pictures very similar and I wanted to get the other one in.

ROBERT BROWN: Sure. Well, this is related to what you said earlier that you liked to encompass your life so that people would be able to see this whole process. Have you seen yourself, as you say . . . a little earlier you said you don’t know that what the last print you do is any better than the one you did twenty years ago, but have you seen any kind of development?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I think that I’ve broadened. I mean I’m very interested in nature and in doing buildings and people. I had a sabbatical in ’61 — no, ’68, and my daughter wanted to go to . . . she didn’t want to go to school again, so she wanted to go to Rome to school. And the art school, the Rhode Island School of Design has a Rome program so . . . .

ROBERT BROWN: An academy or something?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, it’s just . . . no, they just have a . . . they have a building there. This meant that we could get an apartment and that’s why we chose to go there. So our daughter went to . . . she went there first and the last half of the year then we went there. And I didn’t do very good photographs when we were there. Went out and photographed every day. I got some things that were pretty good, but I think that made another kind of an influence on me. And we came back and we went to Mexico the next year, and I think for the first time I really got something, finally did something in Mexico, and then I went to Mexico again and I got more and it just seemed to spark something and when I . . . . Last summer we went to Peru and I stayed in the little town of Cuzco. And I photographed two weeks, getting up every day and going out and every afternoon. And I had an exhibit on about eighty, I think about eighty photographs, in the Light Gallery, just from that. So I think that’s something that could never have happened to me before. I’m just trying to explain that something has happened, you know. You were talking about the last picture and the first and all that. This is something I think that I never could have done before, and I just sort of think it started in Rome — visually somehow, things that I saw.

ROBERT BROWN: Even though you didn’t do the photographs in Rome, you were . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I didn’t do it. Yeah. No, I didn’t do much but I . . . I wasn’t successful.

ROBERT BROWN: Wonder what it is. These are all old cultures. Maybe it has something to do with that?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Oh, I think it’s something visual about it. You know, the old buildings and things. Something about it. And I just think it happened to come out in Cuzco, that’s all. Best of all.

ROBERT BROWN: Why do you suppose you went to Cuzco? Do you know?


ROBERT BROWN: Convenient flight or . . . ? [laughing]

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: No. No. Just our neighbors here had been there, and I mean I didn’t even know anything about Peru, never even thought of Peru. But they’d been there and they told about this and the town and Machu Picchu. But then we had another friend whose government — maybe native South American, I don’t know — sent them on a trip around South America, three weeks or something, and they stopped in Cuzco, and he started talking about how wonderful the stones were and all this kind of stuff.

ROBERT BROWN: So a whole series of bits of information sort of added up?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. Yeah. And I thought I would never bother, but . . . and it turned out to be a really great thing.

ROBERT BROWN: You say you’ve broadened, but is a good deal of the thrust of your photography currently of things that are older?


ROBERT BROWN: Or do you still do a detailed study of grasses?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, I still photograph stuff.

ROBERT BROWN: You could move easily through your whole repertory?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, certain things that I did I will never do again, I guess. I go out and it doesn’t look like anything to me. But I haven’t cared about photographing the snow anymore, and I used to love it, you know. I don’t know why.

ROBERT BROWN: You still do people, don’t you? Street people?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, yeah, a lot of that.

ROBERT BROWN: Is your immediate environment here in Providence . . .

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I like it here.

ROBERT BROWN: . . . conducive?


ROBERT BROWN: It has triggered off . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right, it’s been good. And I like . . . and also I can go up to Boston, I can go to New York, and then Provincetown — I like going there.

RB; How do you see you’ll be doing in the future? Will you be able to move toward a freer and freer regime as you surely someday give up teaching?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Sure. Oh, oh. Oh, yeah, I really want to get out of that. [laughter] Well, I like all the students and stuff like that, but it’s a very . . . I feel inadequate and I . . . I don’t feel good.

ROBERT BROWN: What do you think it is that you feel inadequate about?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: I can’t talk in those terms. I can’t just come out in big pronouncements and things, you know, that way. I can talk about myself to a certain extent and I don’t feel bad. But I don’t feel that I’m doing it all that super. But I do feel like I can say something about myself.

ROBERT BROWN: Do you think maybe the pronouncements, if they were big pronouncements, they’d be taken too literally? You seem to have . . . you’ve developed through your experience.


ROBERT BROWN: And to make pronouncements smacks of something, “This is it.”

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. No, I could never do that.

ROBERT BROWN: Do you suspect that may be . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, And that’s why I don’t do it.

ROBERT BROWN: You would loathe yourself for doing it?


ROBERT BROWN: Even if you could write them down?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah. It’s just . . . it’s not my way, that’s all.

ROBERT BROWN: And yet obviously you see your students thriving under yourself?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yes, I’ve had good luck that way.

ROBERT BROWN: But also isn’t there a desire to be as you were that year in France for fifteen months . . . ?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, that’s the best. [laughs] Well, I’m on sabbatical now.

ROBERT BROWN: Kind of freewheeling?


ROBERT BROWN: How do you think you want to be remembered as a photographer? You do want to be remembered, don’t you?


ROBERT BROWN: You talk about the body of your work.

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, um hmm. Well, I don’t know. I never thought of it that specifically.

ROBERT BROWN: Others have tried to summarize, not that they would be very accurate at all. You know, if you weren’t a photographer . . .

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Oh, I don’t know. Now that I’ve, that I feel good in this, I suppose there’s other things that I could have liked. I could have maybe . . . I don’t suppose I could have been, but I would have liked writing, I think. Or I would have liked architecture, I know that. I might not have liked them once I got into it, you know. But I mean I liked architecture. I know I wouldn’t want to paint.

ROBERT BROWN: Well, in photography, people look at a group of fine photography, how do you think you’ll . . . where do you think you are? Do you think you’re in a niche? Or do you think you’re representative of something? Or unique in certain strong ways? You don’t bother with this kind of evaluation?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Well, I can’t . . . I find it really hard, you know. I think the things that I used to do . . . I photograph a lot of different subject matter, which a lot of photographers don’t. But, then, I don’t . . . other photographers go about the same subject matter in different ways. You know, I mean I don’t know how you really evaluate it. I like the idea personally of photographing different subject matter. That’s part of the fun to me, too — looking for things that I haven’t done before — in terms of subject matter.

RB; Well, you chiefly didn’t run, your momentum . . . your engine has just been adaptability?

HARRY M. CALLAHAN: Yeah, right, yeah, that’s right.


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ASX CHANNEL: Harry Callahan

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