Mar 12, 2011
Nicholas Callaway, Harry Callahan, 1980

Ben talks about how his RISD teacher and mentor, Harry Callahan, influenced his photography. (part 1)

You describe Harry as a mentor. How was he influential in your development as a photographer and in your work today? (part 1)

Harry was a surprise to me. He was different from other professors at RISD, partly because he didn’t say much and partly because he taught by doing his photography. He was his own best example. A lot of what happened in class was less about theory and more about exploring your vision. Harry emphasized this by photographing, looking at the images and then photographing some more. His focus was on doing. This led me to the understanding that it is important to let my work lead me rather than impose a preconception about what should happen with my imagery.

Some people complained that Harry didn’t say enough or didn’t teach enough, but I think those students needed a different teacher experience from what Harry provided. I resonated with Harry’s style of teaching – it suited me just fine.’

Harry often advised students to “photograph what you care about”.

He once said, “I think nearly every artist continually wants to reach the edge of nothingness.” This quote sums up what he taught in the sense “you’re never finished, there’s always more to do”. Even though this might sound abstract he was a very down to earth, practical guy.

Harry’s teaching style reassured me that it’s ok to “muck around for a while”, that it’s ok to not know. That felt empowering to me as a student trying to find my voice.

Harry Callahan, Trees, Chicago, 1950
Harry Callahan (part 2)

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