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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?