Eleanor Callahan, the wife and muse of renowned American photographer Harry Callahan, passed away February 28 at the age of 95. Her husband, Harry, died in 1999.
Photographer Chip Simone met the couple as a student of Harry Callahan’s at the Rhode Island School of Design in the mid-1960s. Callahan noticed Simone’s passion for photography and invited him to a “Friday night beer blast” at the Callahan house. Over the years, Simone built a lifelong friendship with Eleanor and Harry.
Most of what the world knows of Eleanor Callahan is gleaned through her husband’s photographs. “In all the pictures of Eleanor that I’ve seen, there are only a couple that I think are actual portraits of her,” Simone said.
“In Harry’s photographs, she’s not a specific person. She’s sort of the ‘every woman.’”
Callahan’s students at the Rhode Island School of Design often discussed Eleanor’s role in Harry’s work.
“Eleanor was quite convenient for Harry, and Harry was personally very shy,” Simone said.
On the street, Harry Callahan often took photographs of women, but at a distance. The close relationship between Harry and Eleanor made it possible for him to shoot more intimate photographs, often nudes. Simone said it was a “real working relationship” and “she was never fearful that she would be embarrassed by pictures of her in the nude.” Harry was incapable of doing intimate pictures of anybody except her, he said.
Eleanor worked professionally and supported Harry financially until late in his career, when his photographs started to command a serious price tag.
The relationship between Harry and Eleanor “had its own sort of presence,” Simone said. They were “attached at the hip,” and Eleanor’s support of Harry enabled him to create some of the most important photographs of the middle 20th century.
“As photography was Harry Callahan’s life work, Harry was Eleanor’s life work,” he said. “It’s a love story.”
- Matthew Rond, CNN