Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Akron Day 2 -- In the archives

I am a big fan of the dye transfer photographs of Harry Callahan. There were 3 beautiful ones included in the room devoted to Callahan in the Akron Art Museum's photo galleries. When I commented on how much I loved them, Barbara mentioned that she had had to choose 3 favorites from a group of 21 that the museum owns. I asked if I might be able to take a look. Barbara was most generous in letting me come back the next day to take a look.

Arnold Tunstall, the museum's registrar, met me to lead me down to a room where he had the prints laid out for me to see. We went through three different boxes. Wow, what a treat. I think this is some of Callahan's least known work. Some of it recalls his best known black and white street scenes only now re imagined in layered, deep, dye transfer color. There were two photos that were like photograms or collage constructions. Unusual and hypnotic. The best of these for me, though, were multiple exposures that also often contained reflections in glass. The frame was filled with information. I could see in one moment a brilliant formal study and in another moment a jumble of conflicting metaphoric images. In one moment a surreal study would fill my view, in another moment I could see a crystal clear street scene that was documentary in its voice (a few were eerie premonitions of Philip Lorca di Corcia's work). That all of this philosophical layering was compounded and enriched by the literal layering of the dye transfer process made these photos a complete delight. I just love this kind of work -- work that provides a doorway in and yet provides and endless labyrinth to explore once you walk inside.

I know there's no shortage of books on Callahan and even a few choice examples of his color work. I would love to see a monograph devoted explicitly to his exploration of the dye transfer process. I believe it would yield wonders.

Thanks again to Barbara and Arnie for the Akron Art Museum for giving me the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful work. If you can find examples of this work, check it out.

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