Aaron Siskind 1903-1991

 
Aaron Siskind revolutionised the photographic medium through his exploration of abstract forms. Siskind was the fifth of six children in a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in New York City. He studied literature with the objective of becoming a writer. In 1929, he was given his first camera as a honeymoon gift and soon after became dedicated to the medium. In 1932, Siskind joined the New York Photo League and participated as an active social documentary photographer and created series such as Harlem Document . Siskind was instrumental in establishing the 'The Feature Group, which produced influential photo-series including, The Most Crowded Block in the World, Tabernacle City and Dead End: The Bowery.

In the early 1940s, Siskind left the Photo League and became familiar with the New York School of Abstract Expressionism and was close to many of its members including Motherwell, de Kooning and Kline. Guided by the philosophy of abstract expressionism, Siskind began photographing discarded objects as abstract compositions. In 1945, Siskind published, The Drama of the Objects and in 1947, he exhibited regularly with the prominent gallerist Charles Egan. Through his process of experimentation helped to transform photography as a medium. In addition to helping revolutionise the media, Siskind was an influential and passionate teacher. With an invitation from his friend Harry Callahan, Siskind moved to Chicago and taught photography at the Institute of Design for 20 years. His works have had lasting impact on generations of photographers and has been collected by The Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA and the J. Paul Getty Museum among others.


Siskind and Harry Callahan shared a long history of synergy both as photographers and as professors. In 1951, Siskind joined the faculty of the Institute of Design in Chicago at the invitation of Callahan, and took over as head of the photography program in 1961 when Callahan left. They were reunited in 1971 when Siskind joined the Rhode Island School of Design where Callahan was a professor and Siskind continued to teach until his retirement in 1976.

Siskind travelled extensively, notably taking multiple trips to Mexico and Italy. In 1966 he spent a period Rome for a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship.

Siskind died in Providence, Rhode Island on February 11, 1991 at the age of 87.

1903
Born in NYC

1926
Bachelor of Social Sciences, College of the City of New York, NY

1930
Received his first camera as a gift

1932
Documentarian, the New York Photo League, New York, NY

1936 - 1940
Oversaw New York Photo League's Feature Group in creation of documentary photo-essays; Harlem Document, Dead End: The Bowery, Portrait of a Tenement, and St. Joseph's House: The Catholic Worker Movement

1940
His imagery shifted to abstract

1940
Befriended Abstract Expressionist painters: Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko

1926 - 1947
Taught high school English, NY Public Schools, New York, NY

1947 - 1954
Exhibits at Charles Egan Gallery, New York, NY

1961
Succeeded Harry Callahan as Head of Photography Department, Institute of Design, Chicago, IL

1963
Co-Founded the Society for Photographic Education
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (Rome, Italy)

1951 - 1971
Teaching: Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Chicago, IL

1971 - 1976
Professor of Photography, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

1991
Died in Providence, RI

2003 - 2004
The Aaron Siskind Centennial Celebration, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago (travelled).
Exhibitions:

1954
Charles Egan Gallery, New York, NY (solo)

1951
Charles Egan Gallery, New York, NY (solo)

1948
Charles Egan Gallery, New York, NY (solo)

1947
First solo exhibition at the Charles Egan Gallery, New York, NY

Selected Publications:

2003
Rhem, James Louis. Aaron Siskind. New York: Phaidon Press, Inc.

2002
Taken by Design: Photographs from the Institute of Design, 1937-1971. Edited by David Travis and Elizabeth Siegel. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago/The University of Chicago Press

1994
Siskind, Aaron. Aaron Siskind: Toward a Personal Vision 1935 -1955. Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts: Boston College Museum of Art

1989
Siskind, Aaron. Road Trip: Photographs 1980-1988. San Francisco: The Friends of Photography

1982
Chiarenza, Carl. Aaron Siskind, Pleasures and Terrors. Boston: Little, Brown and Company

1979
Siskind, Aaron. Aaron Siskind: Photographs 1932-1978. London: A. Zwemmer Limited

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