01 March 2012

Eleanor Annetta Callahan (1916-2012)

 "Eleanor"


I write about a lot of things on this blog. Sometimes I write about current situations I find myself in, or bits of interesting information that might prove relevant to my readers. In a nutshell, this blog is representative of inspiring and informative aspects related to photography and modeling and how it all impacts or relates to me. Well, I just found out yesterday from a Facebook posting by friend and fellow mentor, Dave Levingston that one of the transcendent art models has recently passed away... Eleanor Callahan.

“I never complained, whatever I was doing. If he said: ‘Come quick, Eleanor — there’s a good light,’ I was right there."

It can be difficult to understand who Eleanor Callahan was without talking about her husband of 63 years, Harry Callahan. And if you don't know Harry Callahan, the photographer, you mind will probably go to Clint Eastwood's character of the same name. Don't do that. Harry Callahan is one of the consummate Masters of Photography pioneers mentioned in the same breath as Edward Weston or Alfred Stieglitz. Harry passed away in 1999, but for much of his career he photographed what was around him. He was the opposite of Weston who explored the western United States. Callahan is better known for walking the streets of his hometown, but the majority of his inspiration came from shooting his wife, Eleanor. She posed for him anywhere and everywhere. In fact, she is best known as the Model Who Never Said No and she'll tell you just that. If Harry called for her on the spot, she came running shedding her clothes as she went.

It might be just a simple way the light was falling on something outside. She'd sit for him and then go back to doing whatever it was that she was doing. She was photographed while she slept, when she was pregnant, outdoors, indoors...it simply did not make a difference. I do not believe Edward Weston would have amounted to as big of an innovative photographer as he was without Charis Wilson. In the same way, I do not think Harry Callahan would have amounted to the influential photographer he became without Eleanor. She was a willing subject in hundreds of his images.

“He just liked to take the pictures of me,” she told an interviewer in 2008. “In every pose. Rain or shine. And whatever I was doing. If I was doing the dishes or if I was half asleep. And he knew that I never, never said no. I was always there for him. Because I knew that Harry would only do the right thing.”

"Harry Callahan: Eleanor and Barbara",
DVD
I mean... think about it for a second. Can you imagine of Eleanor was a mean-spirited or stifling wife who balked at the notion of being photographed nude? Harry would have found another subject, possibly but it would not have been the same. He would not have been able to call on another model at a moment's notice and thus miss much of the fleeting inspirational moments that could so quickly captivate his imagination. There would have been no since of intimate connection from such a familiar perspective that we tend to take for granted in his images. One of my favorite images of his is a shot of Eleanor lying on her side with her back to us while 3-year old daughter Barbara is silhouetted standing on the bedroom windowsill. You couldn't have that shot with a model you pay to come by every now and again. If Eleanor was not the person she was, Harry would have walked by that room, saw the scene, and walked off to his refrigerator to get a beer and brood in front of the TV. But because she allowed him to fully explore his photography, his creativity, and to experiment with various concepts, he was able to achieve the greatness that we know of today. Harry would photography different landscapes and double-expose it with an image of Eleanor. Some say its because he saw her in everything he looked at.

So as is were, I've been a fan of liberating wife/models like this since I started doing nudes. Harry shot her both clothed and unclothed. Some of his most noteworthy work is of Eleanor and Barbara in the park. Interestingly enough, both Eleanor and Charis Wilson, survived their husbands and both died at age 95. So that proves a theory I've been working on. Women who model for their husbands live longer! It was also quite the coincidence that only 15 minutes before I saw DaveL's post, I was reading about Eleanor in the book, "The Model Wife", by Arthur Ollman, which I will get into in another post. I also just ordered (while in the middle of this post, no less) "Eleanor", by Jullian Cox.

5 comments:

unbearable lightness said...

Aw, that makes me sad, T. Women who model for their husbands live longer - but my husband died before I became a model, and he was a sometimes charity runway model himself.

How about asking whether women who model live longer?

Photo Anthems.com said...

That might be an interesting point of research to follow through on. Maybe we can get more models to start posing!

unbearable lightness said...

That would be nice, T, especially among the older women.

Photo Anthems.com said...

Well, you wouldn't count, U.L. You're already timeless. You'd skew the data!

unbearable lightness said...

You sweetie!!!!