Harry Callahan - The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from Joy of Giving Something Foundation, Part 1 New York Monday, April 3, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Halsted Gallery, Michigan
    Warren J. Coville Collection, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
    Phillips, New York, Photographs from the Coville Collection, 26 April 1999, lot 53

  • Exhibited

    Vantage Point: Photographs from the Warren J. Coville Collection, Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, Michigan, 1992

  • Literature

    Szarkowski, Harry Callahan, p. 43
    Galassi, American Photography from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, p. 182
    Greenough, Harry Callahan, p. 29
    Pultz, "Harry Callahan: Early Street Photography 1943-1945," Archive 28, p. 8

  • Catalogue Essay

    Additional prints of this image are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

    Detroit, made early in Harry Callahan’s career, demonstrates how quickly the young photographer surpassed the aesthetic conventions of the medium to create a photographic style that was all his own. Callahan’s experimental use of an in-camera multiple exposure creates an image that is simultaneously tied to reality yet freed from traditional representational qualities. At the time Detroit was made, Callahan had just begun experimenting with tonal contrast to bring to the surface the abstract pattern of his subject. Although it predates Abstract Expressionism, the photograph shares something of its anarchic energy and surface dynamism, with its repetitive patterns of white lines and dashes bursting across the dark picture plane. It is an artist’s vision of cars on a street in his hometown, and not the work of a conventional photographer.

    Callahan started photographing in 1938 while working as a clerk for Chrysler. He joined a camera club to learn the basics of the craft. Despite the reverence for Pictorialism still prevalent in the camera clubs of the day, Callahan began to define his own experimental style. A 1941 workshop with Ansel Adams marked a turning point in Callahan’s practice. John Pultz writes, in his essay "Harry Callahan: Early Street Photography, 1943-1945," that Adams demonstrated to Callahan that photography could be more than a hobbyist’s craft, and held the potential to create personally expressive art.

    According to Pultz, Detroit is one of three known multiple-exposure images of Detroit streets that Callahan created in 1943 with his 9 x 12 cm Linhof camera. In the early 1940s, Callahan did not enlarge his 9 x 12 cm negatives, favoring small contact prints for their precise detail and sharp tonal values. The print offered is one of these early contact prints. Although Adams had introduced Callahan to the beauty of the contact print, Callahan quickly abandoned Adams’s descriptive realism. Instead, through experimentation with the medium, Callahan created a language of formal abstraction that would eventually make him one of the most influential photographers of the second half of the 20th century.



Gelatin silver print.
3 1/4 x 4 1/2 in. (8.3 x 11.4 cm)
Signed in pencil on the mount; Coville Collection label affixed to the reverse of the mount

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $43,750

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The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from Joy of Giving Something Foundation, Part 1

New York 3 April 2017