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Monday, 26 March 2012

Eleanor Callahan, Christine and Teresa

It was sad to hear that Eleanor Callahan, wife, patron and photographic muse of  Harry Callahan died last month.

Harry photographed her over a large part of their 63 year marriage. The result is a portfolio of pictures that range from low contrast facial close-ups to dark and moody studies. I don't quite know why they are so striking. I think it is something to do with Eleanor's face, a face that mixes strength and beauty that is both plain and classical, and a body that is large and feminine, full of Rubenesque curves and contours set against Pre-Raphaelite hair  The art historical elements mix with Callahan's directness. There is no artifice in his portraits.

In a wonderful conversation with Julian Cox, Eleanor says this about her husband in the book, Eleanor.

"He got the bug for photography and never stopped. That's what he wanted to do. He had the bug even before I met him, but he was full-force once we got together. I was working, you see, and I had money, and photography wasn't cheap. I put a lot of money into photography for Harry. He didn't break even or even make enough money to pay for materials until the '70s, when he was almost 60. I never said no to anything. So, for example, if there was a kind of camera that he wanted, I figured it out and he got it. This wasall he wanted to do. Sad as it seems, even just a few days before he died, he stood at the window and tried to photographe, but he was too weak, and the camera fell out of his hands. Harry was very seldom without a camera."

See more portraits here.

The pictures of Eleanor ( who was blessed with life of love free of conflict and hardship) remind me in a strange way of the pictures Seiichi Furuya made of his wife Christine. These were portraits haunted by obsession, mental illness and suicide. Read a thoughtful and touching commentary about them here.

Filipe Casaca has also photographed his partner, Teresa, for his self-published book, A Minha Casa e onde estas - My Home Is Where You Are.

The images can also be seen to better effect here.

He sent me a copy. It's beautifully printed and takes a dark, balletic view of love with tiny prints detailing the everyday gestures of Teresa as she moves around the house. This is what Casaca says of the work.

"It is very difficult to photograph someone you know... There is a tendency to bring our own opinions of somebody to bear on the photographs we take of them, projecting on them that image we've created, which doesn't always correspond with their own self-image. That's what's most interesting: showing her an image that she hasn't seen before. And that's what these images are about, about the way her body is,the movements she might not even be aware of."

Buy the book here.

The dilemma of photographing somebody close to is that they are so close, that we project on them our own wishes and desire. The other difficulty is because they are close they are subjected to a bombardment of photography - and there is an overlap of genres. So we have to unravel our wish-fulfilment from our attempts at authenticity, our spontaeneous snapshots from our staged attempts at profundity and our family snapshots from our yearning for something raw and real. Mix a variety of films and formats and texts and other add-ons and we're left with a near impossible task. But sometimes that doesn't matter - the collection as a whole is what matters. I think that's the case with Eleanor. There's no real narrative, no great link, just a rather random series of wonderful pictures that reach out and touch all sorts of places.

And a question: what are your favourite husband/wife/partner/love photography projects?


Unknown said...

I've been quite taken with Sally Mann's Proud Flesh series of her husband, farm more moving and emotional than her dead bodies.

colin pantall said...

Oh yes, good choice, suzanne. Why do you like it in particular?

Unknown said...

I see I have a typo in there, it's far more moving and emotional than her dead bodies... think she does better among the living, especially among those she loves, so I like that they are full of a kind of personal loving feel (more so, even than Immediate Family) and the other piece I like is how she seems to reference classical sculpture, which works so beautifully to my eye with the collodion process. The prints are gorgeous, I saw them s couple of years ago. I like the Eleanor pictures, but they've always struck me as a little formal, where Mann is all guts, and of course, it's a refreshing change to see the husband as muse and model.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Suzanne. You prompted me to have another look at them which is always worthwhile - I think I'll have to have a little post on Proud Flesh. I love the Eleanor pictures but they are more fragmentary (and formal) and feel more like a kind of diasporadic project, whereas Proud Flesh is much more tightly conceived.

simon anstey said...

Edward Westons portrait of Charis Wilson; some from 1937 are stunning, but I think the best come around 1942 - 45, just toward the end of his productive life. Close, seductive, warm, friendly, provocative, amusing.


Gavin McL said...

Please excuse any inaccuracies but I don't have access to the book at the moment but R E Meatyard's book the "Family Album of Lucybelle Crater" which is photo's of his wife with friends and relatives wearing distorting masks if not my favourite book is certainly one that produces a strong a reaction. I find it really hard to look at - the distortion the masks produce is not hideous in fact it's almost comical but the distorted human features really set my mental teeth on edge. I keep going back to try and understand why. I'm not sure if this is what you were expecting as I'm not sure it's my favourite collaboration but it's one I'm drawn back to

colin pantall said...

Thanks Simon and Gavin - kind of loose fits but still fits. I was just reading about Charis Wilson - Weston got his Guggenheim grant, they travelled around, then Weston divorced his wife (after a 16 year separation), but then separated from Wilson when he dedicated more time to photography and younger models.