Aaron Siskind (December 4, 1903 – February 8, 1991) was an American abstract expressionist photographer. Aaron Siskind’s work focuses on the details of nature and architecture. He presents them as flat surfaces to create a new image out of them, which, he claimed, stands independent of the original subject. Photographer and educator Aaron Siskind holds a preeminent place in the history of American photography. As the sole photographic member of the American Abstract Expressionist movement, Aaron Siskind is regarded as one of the most influential photographic-based artists of the 20th century.
Aaron Siskind started interesting in photography in 1930 (when he received his first camera as a going-away present before his honeymoon trip to Bermuda), and began his photography career as a documentarian in the New York Photo League in 1932. From 1936 to 1940 he oversaw the League’s Feature Group as they created documentary photo-essays of political import including Harlem Document, Dead End: The Bowery, Portrait of a Tenement, and St. Joseph’s House: The Catholic Worker Movement. In the early 1940s, his work shifted to the abstract and metaphoric as Siskind cultivated friendships with such Abstract Expressionists as Franz Kline, Barrett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko, and began to exhibit work at the Charles Egan Gallery (which specialized in Abstract Expressionism).
On the invitation of Harry Callahan, Siskind joined the faculty of the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1951, taking over as head of the photography program when Callahan left in 1961. In 1963 he helped found the Society for Photographic Education. Siskind and Callahan, famous for their synergy as professors and photographers, were reunited beginning in 1971 when Siskind left the Institute of Design for the Rhode Island School of Design where Callahan was a professor and Siskind continued to teach until his retirement in 1976. Siskind traveled broadly, in particular making multiple trips to Mexico and Italy, including a period spent in Rome during his 1966 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. Siskind died in Providence, Rhode Island on February 8, 1991 at the age of 87.
Siskind and Abstract Expressionist painter Franz Kline had been friends for years when, in 1961, Siskind first thought of doing a photographic homage to Kline. Siskind had been driving through San Luis Potosi, Mexico when he chanced upon a wall with random brush strokes that reminded him of Kline. Kline died the following year. Siskind did not actually begin the homage until December 1972 on another car trip in Mexico, this time through Jalapa. Homage to Franz Kline is composed of six groups of work, each identified by the place and time in which they were shot and, despite overarching themes, each with a distinct character.
“When I make a photograph, I want it to be an altogehter new object, complete and self-contained, whose basic condition is order.” – Aaron Siskind
Official foundation site: www.aaronsiskind.org