Aaron Siskind (American, 1903–1991) was a notable photographer and teacher, educated at City College in New York, where he earned a BSS in Literature. Siskind taught photography during most of his art career at the collegiate level. He taught first at Trenton Junior College, from 1947 to 1949, and then moved on to join the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, from 1951 to 1971.

Siskind contributed to the Abstract Expression movement early on in his career; he took part in the New York Photo League in 1932, before overseeing the League''s Feature Group from 1936 to 1940. This group created documentary photo-essays of political importance, including The Harlem Document, Dead End: The Bowery, Portrait of a Tenement, and St. Joseph''s House: The Catholic Worker Movement. In the 1940s, Siskind began to exhibit some of his work, which was first featured at galleries like the Charles Egan Gallery in New York, NY. In the 1950s, Siskind focused on architecture; he photographed the Adler and Sullivan buildings in Chicago, which lead to one of his most famous pieces, Chicago 59. He also published The Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation during this time period, which was mainly shot around Lake Michigan near Chicago, and featured subjects like divers and dark shapes among a white background that depicted the sky.

Siskind had a well-known friendship with painter Franz Kline, which led to Siskind’s creation of an homage after Kline''s death, which was symbolically called Homage to Franz Kline. The piece included photographs of landmarks visited on a trip Siskind took throughout Mexico that reminded him of his dear friend. Siskind died in Providence, RI, in 1991, at the age of 87, but he has certainly not been forgotten. The Aaron Siskind Foundation distributes US$10,000 per year in grants to aspiring art students, while organizing displays that showcase some of his artwork in various galleries around the world.

Timeline

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”
1966
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

Literature

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