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I’ve written before of books I’ve touched and lost—and just yesterday another one arrived in the mail—Harry Callahan’s Water’s Edge.  It was published in 1980—not a good year for me, economically—I started graduate school, back in the day when starvation was considered to be a motivating force for students to work hard and finish quickly.  I can’t remember where or when I held the book, but it left memories, not so much of individual photographs (although a handful I remember clearly after all the years), but of a sense of clarity and simplicity that seemed to permeate the book.

When the book arrived in the mail, I inspected my copy—a dust jacket scuffed and torn—with the price clipped and a few stray marks on the pages—but the binding tight—a good copy.  And then I started looking at the pictures—simple and clear—somehow the book has a perfect tone and rhythm.

Harry Callahan. Cape Cod, 1972

Callahan manages to make photographs of such simple power that they take your breath away.  There are empty beaches, and there are beaches with swimmers.  There are simple pictures of objects in the sand, and even simpler pictures of just sand.  There are pictures of his wife Eleanor, sometimes clothed and sometimes not, that speak to the joy of being alone in a place with a lover.  Always there is a sense of care in looking, in the joy of translating a simple human moment into a beautiful photograph, even (or especially) in scenes so common that they seem to have no subject except for time and light and space.

Harry Callahan, Cape Cod, 1972


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