Tag Archives: multiple exposures

Harry Callahan | The Street

I was pretty excited to see that a photographic exhibition on Harry Callahan’s work was scheduled for the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) at the beginning of the year and doubly so when I received my course materials for Identity and Place and saw that he was one of the referenced photographers to study in Part 2. This is definitely a first for me.

I did take photographs in the gallery, but due to the strong lighting there was just too much reflection, so I bought the exhibition catalogue and make the photographs from there, so please excuse my wonky perspective lines. I have straightened them out as far as I can in LightRoom.

The exhibition at the VAG is quite extensive. The VAG acquired almost 600 Callahan photographs through the generosity of the Rossy Family Foundation in 2013 and the collection is representative of the full chronology of Callahan’s career and themes that he worked on, from nature studies to portraits of his wife and daughter, to street photography in the cities of Chicago, Detroit, Providence and Cairo. The actual exhibition features more than 120 photographs of urban environment, beginning with his multi-exposure images in the 1940s and concludes with the multi-panel images of Peachtree Street in Atlanta made in the 1980s and 1990s.

From the Peachtree series | 1987-90 by Harry Callahan
From the Peachtree series | 1987-90 by Harry Callahan

Callahan did not adhere to the idea of previsualization that Adams and the Group f/64 advocated at that time and his ideas of self-expression were contrary to the idea of merging functionality with aesthetics as projected by Moholy-Nagy as well. Throughout his career he used experimental techniques.

Detroit | 1943 by Harry Callahan
Detroit | 1943 by Harry Callahan

The above image of Detroit is a multiple exposure using eight or more frames to create an intricate layered image of the city life. To me it represents the chaos, hustle and bustle of the streets in a large city. The image is filled with details, no one specific point to lock focus on, compelling the viewer to scan the image in all directions, almost as if one is trying to cross a busy street. Diagonal lines abound in this image lending credence to the movement that is happening in the various layers.

… the dynamism of the picture’s formal structure, which seems to sweep the viewer along with the crowd, counters the profound sense of alienation embodied in most of Callahan’s later images of urban space.

Grant Arnold (2016: 14)

The exhibition catalogue describes this image as having a “gloomy tonality” (p.14) and while I can see that the overall middle gray tone might appear gloomy, I find myself very intrigued by this image. It almost has a Dickensian feel to it and scenes of the workhouse and child labour spring to mind. I suppose that is rather gloomy! Yet still I feel the need to peel away the individual layers to see more.

Callahan’s series of women’s faces on the street were made using a telephoto lens and the women were all unaware of their portraits being taken.  No background details are visible. There is a sense of intrusion into their private lives in all these images. We see glimpses of women lost in thought, frowning in pain, tired and chatting to an unseen companion, isolated in the city life.  The compositions are so tight that the tops of their heads are cut off or their mouth and chin. So close that we are forced to look at the individual features of each woman’s face, thereby putting us in an intimate posture with the women. Nevertheless, the viewer is left asking the question – who are these women and what is their story. Callahan leaves the answer to that question to us.

Another trope that Callahan used when making photographs of people on the street was to photograph in dark shadows “in which the chasm-like darkness of the street is alleviated by only the occasional shaft of light that penetrates the shadows of the surrounding towers, briefly illuminating a pedestrian on the sidewalk” (Arnold, 2016: 14). These photographs are very dark and mysterious, the subjects only partially touched by light depicting the ominous, dangerous places that every city has.

The third image in the gallery above of La Salle Street, was created by running roll film through the camera twice. This resulted in pictures where only the darkest areas show up in the prints (Pultz, 2016: 29).

Eleanor & Barbara, Chicago | 1953 by Harry Callahan
Eleanor & Barbara, Chicago | 1953 by Harry Callahan

Callahan’s street photography style was different when photographing his wife, Eleanor and daughter, Barbara. He photographed them snapshot style on the streets posing at well know sites in Chicago. In all the photographs Eleanor and Barbara small (almost dwarfed) by their surroundings.

In Chicago, Fall 1958 (first in gallery above) we again see Callahan’s method of catching pedestrians in bright light before dark forms and shadows. His “vantage point seems to immerse the subject in a sea of impenetrably dark tones, making the scene seem distant, as if a memory recalled in a moment of reverie, rather than lived experience” (Pultz, 2016: 30)

Abigail Solomon-Godeau ( (2007) says of Callahan’s photos the opposition between Callahan’s vision of the city – alienated, inhospitable, antisocial and oppressive – and his depiction of women subjects begins to reveal the oppositional structure of domestic of ‘natural space’ versus public space; spouse versus stranger; elemental, sexualized body versus objectified alien body” (Grant 2016: 19). The second photo in the gallery above bears out Solomon-Godeau’s statement, making a broad reference to female objectification with the pornographic pose superimposed above the woman walking in the street.

The third image in the gallery above is another example of Callahan’s multiple exposures. We see images from a large electronic billboard or TV, probably from a soap opera superimposed over the facade of a building that looks very much like a law court. In the foreground two figures walk hand in hand into superimposed text. Perhaps a play on the dramas that play out in law courts, likening them to soap operas?

Atlanta | 1985 by Harry Callahan
Atlanta | 1985 by Harry Callahan

Of all Callahan’s photos on display at the exhibition, I would have to say that his multiple exposure work caught my attention the most. Ever since working on Assignment 2 in Context and Narrative, I have found myself drawn to this type of work, and hopefully I will have more opportunities to experiment with this technique myself.

Reference List

Arnold, Grant (2016) Harry Callahan: The Street In Harry Callahan | The Street. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery.

Pultz, John (2016) Harry Callahan’s Modernist Photography and the Street in the Cold War Era In Harry Callahan | The Street. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery.

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Sandokai: Grasping at things is surely delusion by Josema Zamorano

This has been the most exciting and inspiring exhibition that I’ve had the pleasure to view during this year’s Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver.

Josema Zamorano is a multi-talented artist. He is a university professor at Capilano University and has taught students in a variety of subjects: Spanish, engineering, literature, philosophy and photography. He has also worked as a telecommunications engineer. The fact that “his work aims to question identities by means of experimental photography and visual poetry” quite excited me as I stand at the beginning of this Identity and Place module. I’m sure I will find some inspiration for some of the forthcoming assignments here.

His Sandokai series is based on a poem written by the eighth Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xiqian and is chanted daily in the temples in Japan and around the world. The translated text is at the end of this write up.

Zamorano has drawn his inspiration from the Japanese belief that the ghosts of the ancestors are ever present among the living. In his use of multiple exposures, photographing the same scene from slightly different perspectives, he has created illusory effects that bring the ghostly appearances to the forefront. I think his most successful images were those done at the temples, where there is not quite so much pedestrian traffic and the ghosts are more visually apparent. However, all his images are quite fascinating and one feels the necessity of wanting to peel away the layers to reveal more of the mystery. In contrast to what one would normally expect of a ghostly image, Zamorano’s images come across as warm and friendly. The ghosts are not something to be feared, but are really part of the cycle of life. The words in the poem “To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment” seem to encapsulate his images perfectly.

Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai Tokyo #10 by Josema Zamorano

 

Identity of Relative and Absolute

The mind of the Great Sage of India was intimately conveyed from west to east. Among human beings are wise ones and fools, But in the Way there is no northern or southern Patriarch.

The subtle source is clear and bright; the tributary streams flow through the darkness. To be attached to things is illusion; To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related, and at the same time, independent. Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place. Form makes the character and appearance different; Sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.

The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases. The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother. Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.

Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour. Each is independent of the other; cause and effect must return to the great reality Like leaves that come from the same root. The words high and low are used relatively.

Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind, in walking.

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position. Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Reading words you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards. If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it. When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far. If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it.

I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened: Do not waste your time by night or day.

Wikipedia

Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano
Sandokai #4 by Josema Zamorano

More images from the Sandokai series can be seen at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html.

Reference List

Josema Zamorano [online]. Capilano University. Available at: https://www.capilanou.ca/languages/faculty/Josema-Zamorano/ [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Sandokai [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokai [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

Zamorano, Josema (2016) Sandokai: Grasping at Things is Surely Delusion [online]. Available at: http://www.josemazamorano.com/photography/sandokai.html [Accessed 13 April, 2016]

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