For me, the photograph that most fully expresses the idea of love is Harry Callahan’s double exposure of his wife Eleanor’s face over a field of roots and grasses (above). It signifies that Eleanor was everything to Harry and he won't let you forget this. The picture refuses to allow your eyes to sit still as you’re pulled deeper and deeper into its compositional web. The stems at the top of her head crackle like neural electricity. The flowery branch at bottom left becomes a bouquet. Motion and emotion intertwine.
If this image weren’t enough it is, of course, just one of hundreds and hundreds of pictures the photographer took of his wife starting in the late 1930s after Harry had taken a photography workshop with Ansel Adams. Harry had met Eleanor on a blind date in 1933, and three years later they were married. They both worked at Chrysler in Detroit where she was a 17 year old secretary and he worked in the parts department when he wasn’t busy with the company camera club.
For Harry, Eleanor was not so much a muse as she was a reflection of life. He thought like a writer and photographed what he knew. He learned from his own experiments. As Arthur Ollman pointed out in his essay “The Model Wife”:
Harry Callahan was a complex man who seemed to be a simple man. His apparent simplicity was engendered by reticence and frail verbal skills. He explained himself plainly: "In my life, being married was one powerful experience, photography by itself was a powerful experience, having a daughter was another experience, as well as living in Europe. I think these have all been very strong influences in my growing as a photographer."
One of the most surprising aspects of the Callahans work together was how little controversy they caused in their time. Harry’s pictures of Eleanor left no part of her anatomy unexamined and were reasonably widely seen. So what gave Eleanor the confidence to do something so unusual? I asked her the one time we met and she said “I thought they were poetry and I knew Harry would never do anything out of line!”