11/07/2013 11:30 BST | Updated 10/09/2013 06:12 BST

Hamburg's House of Photography

"I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as life itself and felt that their individual feelings were worth expressing," said Harry Callahan in 1946. His words were written on one of the gallery walls at the Haus der Photographie (House of Photography) in Hamburg when I saw them in June. They struck a cord.

The Haus der Photographie hosts a number of exhibitions throughout the year, the next one being Visual Leader, from 27 July to 13 October, featuring photos from magazines and newspapers.

If you enjoy looking at the work of influential photographers, it'll be worth checking local listings to see what's on here when you're visiting this culturally vibrant north German city.


The gallery is located within one of the Deichtorhallen, an easy ten minute stroll from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the city's central station. It's one of several galleries and museums concentrated in an area that's known locally as "the art mile".

The Deichtorhallen were erected as high-ceilinged steel and glass market halls a century ago. The roofs sweep down over brick gables in an architectural style that many would say is typical of this city.

If you enjoy architecture then I'd recommend you take a walk around the surrounding streets. You can view the ZDF building's sleek contemporary design as well as a number of brick Kontorhauser, meaning 'counting houses', including the grand chocolate-coloured Chilehaus, whose design resembles an ocean going liner from the first-half of the twentieth century.

Standing within the former market hall I could easily have been persuaded that it was built to exhibit photography or art. The white walls of the Haus der Photographie have good, even light. Looking up I noted how the light grey girders that support the roof are dotted with the curves of rivets, suggesting the vintage of a building that otherwise feels thoroughly modern.

The Haus der Photographie's Callahan show was well curated and, based on what I saw, I'd certainly be interested in returning here for future exhibitions.

Callahan, an American, lived from 1912 to 1999 and was a self-taught photographer. He became influential in his own lifetime for his work, particularly his multi-exposure compositions of his wife Eleanor, nature and a variety of abstract forms that quickly had me thinking of surrealism.

The photographer himself, though, dismissed the idea he followed one of the twentieth century's artistic trends. "When I did multiple exposures like this I was not consistently pursuing a surrealistic feeling...when I go out to take pictures I don't think about movements in art," said Callahan in 1979.

I found Callahan's series of images of people on the streets of Chicago, from 1961, fascinating for their documentary value and interesting use of camera angle. He chose to photograph from a low perspective, looking upwards towards by-passers, many of them women. The effect is that he captured people looking stern and busy, perhaps suggesting that urban life is overly hurried.

Some of his later images, photographed within cities, use multiple exposures to create a reflection like effect, as you might see on the windscreen of a car driving through an American metropolis.

A selection of Callahan's travel images were also exhibited, though at times, to me, they felt empty and less well composed than the rest of his body of work.

A short documentary film was shown, in which Callahan was interviewed and explained his approach to work. It was informative and portrayed the photographer as a modest, thoughtful man who found inspiration in his wife and daughter.

Particularly from 1946 to 1961 Eleanor, his wife, features significantly in his work and, based upon the interviews aired in the film, the couple clearly enriched one another.

While looking at Callahan's images at the Haus der Photographie, it struck me that perhaps we all need a muse and rather than constantly seeking artistic inspiration we should instead all be looking to find or secure our own personal Eleanors?

The Haus der Photographie is at Deichtorstrasse 1-2 in Hamburg. It's open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11.00am to 6.00pm, with extended opening on the first Thursday of each month, until 9.00pm. Entry costs €9.

Further Information

Check the Haus der Photographie website for further information about forthcoming exhibitions.

Find out more about travel and tourism in this German city on the Hamburg tourist information website.