Harry Callahan (part 2)

Mar 11, 2011
Harry Callahan, Eleanor

Ben talks about how his RISD teacher and mentor, Harry Callahan, influenced his photography. (part 2)

You describe Harry as a mentor. How was he influential in your development as a photographer and in your work today? (part 2)

Years later I was teaching a photography class and trying to decide how many students would make an ideal class size. I called Harry for his opinion. He said to do whatever felt right. When he started teaching he had 150 students and 3 cameras.

Harry’s idea was to do the work in the camera, not in the darkroom. By Harry’s standards you don’t crop, you don’t manipulate, you execute in the camera. For instance, he made his multiple exposures images in the camera, not in the darkroom. This way of photographing seemed the purest, most rigorous way to pursue my work.

Harry talked about photographing to learn something new. This stuck with me. It wasn’t just about making beautiful pictures; it was a way to explore a subject, to go deeper into it so that you were learning something new about your subject in the process. I remember Harry talking about photographing something again and again, such as a certain landscape. He might revisit a place many times to explore the subject matter in depth.

I’m influenced by how Harry photographed his wife, Eleanor. I remember him telling me that to photograph your wife was one of the most worthwhile things I could do.

I photograph my wife, Trudie. When I’m photographing Trudie I’m exploring a subject over and over. I see it as a process for seeing something new.

You can see Harry’s influence in my photography…

These are benchmarks that I’ve applied to my way of photographing. They’ve become guiding principals in my work. I’ve used them to build a framework for how I approach my photography. I don’t crop, I do the work in the camera. It feels the most challenging and the most exhilarating. It holds me responsible for what I’m doing at the moment I create the image.

Harry Callahan (part 1)
Following Your Bliss

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