Obituaries

Eleanor Callahan, 95, muse to husband’s famous photos

Estate of Harry Callahan, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
With little money between them, it was economical for frugal Harry Callahan to feature his wife, Eleanor, in his pictures.

NEW YORK - Eleanor Callahan - the muse for her husband, Harry Callahan, whose varied and sensual photographs of her taken over more than 50 years can be said to rank with Alfred Stieglitz’s of Georgia O’Keeffe - died Tuesday in a hospice in Atlanta. She was 95.

The cause was cancer, said Barbara Callahan Hollinger, her daughter.

With her raven hair and ripe figure, Eleanor Callahan is one of the most recognizable models in the history of 20th-century photography, an inseparable part of both the life and work of one of its most renowned artists. From 1941 to his death in 1999, she allowed herself to be photographed by him, without complaint, hundreds of times.

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Eleanor Annetta Knapp was born in Royal Oak, Mich. The middle of three daughters and the only one not to go to college, she supported herself with her shorthand and typing.

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She met Harry Callahan on a blind date in 1933 when both worked for Chrysler in Detroit. They married three years later.

With no money to speak of between them, it was economical for frugal Harry Callahan to feature his wife in his pictures.

They were married for 63 years. “And they were, I’d say, all nice ones,’’ Mrs. Callahan said. “We never had any real fights.’’

Their trust and interdependence has been chronicled in several exhibitions, most recently in “Harry Callahan: Eleanor,’’ which opened in 2007, and in “Harry Callahan at 100,’’ now at the National Gallery in Washington.

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In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Callahan leaves two grandchildren.

As the family moved from Detroit to Chicago to Providence, Mrs. Callahan managed her husband’s business affairs. But even after the 1970s, when he became a lionized figure and had offers from many models, he seldom photographed anyone but her.

“He just liked to take the pictures of me,’’ she told an interviewer in 2008. “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.’’