Siskind, Aaron 1903-1991

views updated

SISKIND, Aaron 1903-1991


Born December 4, 1903, in New York, NY; died February 8, 1991, in RI; married Sidonie Glaller, 1929. Education: City College of New York, B.S.S., 1926.


Photographer. Worked as schoolteacher in New York, NY, 1926-49; Black Mountain College, Beria, NC, instructor in photography, 1951; Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, professor of photography, 1951-71, head of department, 1961-71. Instructor, Trent College, 1950; adjunct professor, Rhode Island School of Design, 1971; visiting lecturer, Harvard University, 1973. Trustee, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Exhibitions: Works included in permanent collections of Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and other institutions. Solo exhibitions include Tabernacle City, Photo League, New York, NY, 1941; Old Houses of Bucks County, Delaware Gallery, New Hope, PA, 1948; Photographs, Seven Stairs Gallery, Chicago, IL, 1952; Siskind Recently, Museum of Modern Art, 1965; Recent Photographs, Carl Siembab Gallery, Boston, MA, 1968; Aaron Siskind, Photographer, Art Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1971; Photographs, 1967-77, Light Gallery, New York, NY, 1978; Aaron Siskind: Fifty Years, Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ, 1982; Homage to Franz Kline, National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC, 1984; and Divers, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, NY, 1992. Group exhibitions include Harlem Document, New School for Social Research, New York, NY, 1940; Abstraction in Photography, Museum of Modern Art, 1951; Photography U.S.A., De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, MA, 1962; The Photographer as Poet, Arts Club, Chicago, IL, 1973; and American Images, 1945-80, Barbican Art Gallery, London, England, 1985.


Society for Photographic Education.


Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1966; Distinguished-Career-in-Photography Award, Friends of Photography (Carmel, CA), 1981; Photography Award, St. Botolph Club Foundation, 1982; Governor's Arts Award, Rhode Island State Council of the Arts, 1983; honorary degrees from Columbia College, 1971; Northwestern University, 1980; and Bard College and Rhode Island School of Design, both 1981.



Aaron Siskind: Photographs, introduction by Harold Rosenberg, Horizon Press (New York, NY), 1959.

Spring of the Thief, poetry by John Logan, Visual Studies Workshop (Rochester, NY), 1963.

Aaron Siskind: Photographer, introduction by Nathan Lyon, essays by Henry Holmes Smith and Thomas B. Hess, George Eastman House (Rochester, NY), 1965.

Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation, [New York, NY], 1972.

Bucks County: Photographs of Early Architecture, text by William Morgan, Horizon Press (New York, NY), 1974.

Places: Aaron Siskind Photographs, introduction by Thomas B. Hess, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.

Seventy-fifth Anniversary Portfolio, [New York, NY], 1979.

Aaron Siskind: Photographs, 1932-1978, A. Zwemmer (London, England), 1979.

Volcano, [New York, NY], 1980.

Harlem Document: Photographs, 1932-1940, foreword by Gordon Parks, Matrix (Providence, RI), 1981.

Aaron Siskind: Limited Edition, [New York, NY], 1981.

Olive Trees, [New York, NY], 1981.

Rome Hieroglyphs, [New York, NY], 1981.

Seaweed, [New York, NY], 1981.

Tabernacle City, 1935-1939, [New York, NY], 1981.

Viterbo Broom, Italy, [New York, NY], 1981.

Road Trip: Photographs, 1980-1988, introduction by Charles Traub, Friends of Photography (San Francisco, CA), 1989.


Contributor to periodicals, including American Photography, Art News, Modern Photography, and Saturday Review. Coeditor, Choice, 1963.


Aaron Siskind was a pioneering photographer who was known for his contemplative, geometrically precise imagery. "It is more than likely that, when the history of twentieth-century photography is written, Aaron Siskind will emerge as one of its most significant figures," reported a contributor to Contemporary Photographers. "Of particular note will be the judgement that Siskind forced photographers to confront the physical reality of their product—the photographic print within the boundaries, and on the surface, of a flat sheet of paper."

Siskind became interested in photography in the early 1930s, when he was already in his late twenties. While working as a schoolteacher in New York City's public schools, he taught himself the rudiments of photography, and by the early 1940s he had begun showing his work in both solo and group exhibitions. During that decade, he developed an extraordinary ability to manipulate depth. "By eliminating the deep focus that other photographers cherished," affirmed the Contemporary Photographers contributor, "he found the objects in his images taking on added significance."

In the ensuing years Siskind came to be regarded as a master of detail and the mysteriously evocative. "Cryptic though some of his images may be at first glance …, their internal logic is overwhelming," noted the Contemporary Photographers writer. "It is necessary only to suspend the belief that there exists a world on the other side of the photographic image."



Contemporary Photographers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.*