Aaron Siskind 1903-1991

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Biography

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 Groupwhich 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.

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