This post considers the work of two photographers working with ‘the aware’, so subjects that are aware that they are being photographed, in contrast to ‘the unaware’ considered here. The two photographers are Harry Callahan and Julian Germain, with both works involving long-term, personal projects.
Harry Callahan (1912–99). Lens Culture says of Callahan’s work, ‘It’s impossible to imagine Callahan without Eleanor, his wife. He photographed her repeatedly, indoors and out, nude and clothed, over about 15 years. These images, whose true subject is married love, rank among the most moving photographs ever made.’ It is the photographs of Eleanor that are considered in the context of ‘the aware’. MoMA shares a generous collection of Callahan’s photos online.
Most of the photos of Eleanor shown do not reveal her face, or she is placed in the distance so her features cannot be perceived. They are all shot in black and white. The awareness of the subject is implied as the photos are carefully composed or in private locations. In ASX’s extensive interview with Callahan, he is asked why he started to photograph his wife; he explains that it was after the birth of their daughter, saying ‘So it was a very exciting thing. I thought that I would really like to photograph her and I photographed them both. I photographed them an awful lot, for about five years. But I didn’t get very many good pictures. I got a few…’
Callahan who, as a young photographer, enjoyed both Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz as mentors, and had a long career as an academic reflects on quality in photography:
“The difference between the casual impression and the intensified image is about as great as that separating the average business letter from a poem,” said Harry Callahan in 1964. “If you choose your subject selectively — intuitively — the camera can write poetry.” (quoted in Lensculture)
Julian Germain‘s (b 1962) 8 year project focuses on Charles Snelling, who was an inspiration to Germain for how life can be lived.
The text accompanying the project on Germain’s website includes the following quote, which reflects Snelling’s way of living:
‘For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness’ is a template model for what critical engagement should try to achieve in our day and age: forget the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and provide examples of people who operate in a different forcefield…’
They are photos of Snelling’s everyday life, in subdued colour tones. The project also includes photos of Snelling’s own photo albums, mixing found photos with the artist’s photos in the book of the project. In the interview with Photo-eye, Germain’s intention is explained:
His visits with Snelling were initiated more out of companionship than photographic goals. “Photography was undoubtedly part of it because I always took my camera,” Germain says, “but it was a relatively small part with no end product in mind, no deadline and no pressure to ‘succeed’.”
What happens behind the lens, in the photographers’ minds, is important to appreciating these two works. Both photographers explain that they respond intuitively to what they see, implying that there is no pre-determined intention. The projects are put together as an afterward to the photography. This is somewhat different to the discipline of ‘intention’ frequently referred to in the OCA’s level 1 course.
Above all both works are a response to subjects that move the photographers personally; one a wife, and the other a wise old man.
Art Institute Chicago [website]. Callahan, Harry. Available from: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/artist/Callahan,+Harry [accessed 30.8.16]
ASX [website]. Harry M. Callahan Interviewed on February 13, 1975. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2012/12/theory-harry-m-callahan-interview-feb.html [accessed 30.8.16]
Julian Germain [website]. For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness, 2005. Available from: http://www.juliangermain.com/projects/foreveryminute.php [accessed 30.8.16]
Lensculture [website]. Harry Callahan:
The Photographer at Work. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slide-1 [accessed 30.8.16]
MoMA [website]. Harry Callahan. Available from: http://www.moma.org/collection/artists/924 [accessed 30.8.16]
Photo Eye [website]. For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness. Available from: http://www.photoeye.com/magazine/reviews/2012/03_12_For_Every_Minute_You_Are_Angry_You_Lose_Sixty_Seconds_of_Happiness.cfm [accessed 30.8.16]