Aaron Siskind Biography

Aaron Siskind, a renowned teacher, editor, and photographer, is best known for his groundbreaking work in abstract photography. While his childhood interests leaned towards literature, poetry, and music, it was a fortuitous encounter with a camera that sparked his passion for photography. Starting as a social documentary photographer, Siskind captured the essence of life in Harlem through his series, Harlem Documentary. However, it was his fascination with abstract elements such as road surfaces, peeling plaster, and graffiti that truly set his work apart. Siskind’s photographs focused on flat shapes, rejecting the illusion of three-dimensional objects, and were a unique blend of the real world and abstraction. Influenced by abstract-expressionist painters like Kline, Motherwell, and de Kooning, Siskind’s images reflected their artistic style. As his love for photography grew, Siskind found solace in inanimate forms, and anything abstract became his muse. To delve deeper into the intriguing life and work of Aaron Siskind, continue reading.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 87
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Mary Ann Siskind
  • American Men
  • American Photographers
  • Died on: February 8, 1991
  • City: New York City
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers
  • More Facts
  • Education: City College of New York

Childhood & Early Life

Aaron Siskind was born in New York and grew up in Lower East Side. He was born to a Russian Jewish immigrant. He was the fifth child and had five siblings. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and earned his Bachelor of Social Science degree in Literature from the College of the City of New York in 1926. He was inclined to music and poetry during his formative years. It was but natural for him to grow up to be a Lecturer. Throughout his childhood, he probably had not seen even the face of a camera.

Career

Aaron Siskind began his career in photography as a member of the Photo League in the 1930s. He started off as a Documentary Photographer and produced many documentaries including Harlem Document. In 1940s, while he was in Martha’s Vineyard, his started taking pictures which lay importance to textures, shapes and abstract form. Unlike any conventional photographer, he captured the very ordinary things. However, he brought out the extra-ordinary from the ordinary. During the period 1943-1944, he combined abstract with real life and created interesting photographs from discarded and found objects on Martha’s Vineyard and in Gloucester, Massachusetts. From 1947-1949, he taught photography at Trenton Junior College, Trenton, New Jersey. Here, he passed on his students the talent of shooting the most trivial of things yet getting the best out of them. In 1950, Sisikind was persuaded by Harry Callahan his colleague, to join him as a part of the faculty of the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. During 1951-1971, Siskind was a part of Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design in Chicago. He had the opportunity of closely working with Harry Callahan during his stay at Chicago. Between 1960 and 1970, he served as a co-editor of Choice Magazine. In 1971, like Callahan he decided to teach the rest of his life at the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1973, he served as a Lecturer in Photography at the Carpenter Centre of Harvard University.

Major Works

In 1950, he wrote ‘Credo” as an artist’s statement for the symposium, ‘What is Modern Photography?’ In 1959, Horizon Press published his first book, ‘Aaron Siskind: Photographs’. In 1965, George Eastman House published his second book, ‘Aaron Siskind: Photographer’.

Awards & Achievements

In 1966, he became the recipient of John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for Creative Arts –Photography. In 1969, he was named Bingham Distinguished Professor in Humanities at the University of Louisville. Received the Philadelphia College of Art Gold Star of Merit Award and the Rhode Island Governor’s Prize for the Arts. In 1971, he was awarded the degree of Honorary Doctor of Arts from Columbia College in Chicago. In 1976, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Grant for Visual Arts in Photography.

Personal Life & Legacy

Siskind is sometimes referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Photography’ as he in his own way re-invented photography by giving it a touch that no one had given it before. People who have developed a liking towards Siskind’s work regard other photography as predictable and boring. It is believed that Siskind died of a stroke at his home in Providence, at the age of 87. He was survived by a daughter, two sisters and two grandchildren.

Trivia

Aaron Siskind was known to have developed an interest in photography when he received his first camera as a going-away present before his honeymoon trip to Bermuda. It is believed that he clicked pictures the whole time during his honeymoon.

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