• He was born to immigrant Russian Jews on Dec. 4, 1903 - 5th out of six children, and lived half his life in New
York. As a child was always on the street, exploring. At thirteen, he used to listen to people talk about politics,
then give public speeches about peace and on anti-war.
• While studying social science at City College of New York, he joined a literary group whose members included
Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, who would both become painters and would play key roles in Siskind’s
development as an artist. Soon after he graduated in 1926, he began teaching English to fifth-to-ninth-graders
in the New York public school system. In 1929 he Married Sidonie (Sonia) Glatter (annulled 1945).
• His first loves were music and poetry, but he took an interest in photography in 1930 (when he received his
first camera as a going-away present before his honeymoon trip to Bermuda). This was a quote from Siskind:
I was given a small camera as a wedding gift from a very dear friend. My first pictures were taken on
my honeymoon. As soon as I became familiar with the camera, I was intrigued with the possibilities of
expression it offered. It was like a discovery for me.
• He began his photography career as a documentary photographer 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 The group was a place to meet other photographers and learn techniques.
Frustrated with the group’s strict politics, Siskind quit in 1935, but rejoined the following year to become head
of group. But Siskind slowly edged away from strict documentary.
• HENRY HORENSTEIN, Professor, Rhode Island School Of Design, said this about Siskind:
Aaron was warm, smart, articulate, funny, and opinionated. It was obvious that he loved teaching and
he loved his students, treating us much like his own children. However, I already had a father with a lot
of opinions about what I should and shouldn’t do, which made Aaron’s style of teaching difficult for me.
I am sorry I couldn’t get closer to him as a lot of his other students did. When I began teaching at RISD
in the early 1980s, Aaron invited me to bring my class to his home in Pawtucket, RI. There, he would
regale us with his stories and wisdom. It was at these very special classes that I really got to appreciate
Aaron’s great generosity and spirit.
• In the early 40’s, however, Mr. Siskind’s work grew increasingly spare and abstract, and by 1950
he had completely departed from his earlier documentary style.
• Siskind’s work gradually shifted from a social documentary approach to a more abstract and
• “For the first time in my life subject matter, as such, had ceased to be of primary importance,”
Siskind explained. “Instead I found myself involved in the relationships of these objects, so
much so that the pictures turned out to be deeply moving and personal experiences.”
Two Small Barn Doors Date?
He was an Abstract Expressionist, but instead of using a paintbrush he used a camera. Franz Kline
was a close friend. Wilhelm De Kooning cites Siskind as a significant influence. Like Ansel Adams Sis-
kind’s photographs are very precise. Unlike Adams, Siskind seemed to be more concerned with the
concept of pure space rather than any individual subject.
• The tendency to separate
Siskind’s abstract work from his
straightforward documentary work
is understandable -- we achieve
clarity through categories. But
the two periods, or styles, are
really the same: Siskind was always
gripped by the enduring concerns
of landscape and figure even as
he chose to see this wide, strange
world of ours through the smaller,
detailed lens of abstraction.
(Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, 134
N.W. Eighth Ave., 503-287-3886)
• Critic Eby Lloyd called him “the
father of modern photography.
His work, more than that of any
single photographer, has freed
photography from its concerns
with simple representation,
documentation, or portraiture,
and has taken it to the realm of
poetic signification. In Siskind’s
hands, photography attained its
potential as a full abstract and
Untitled (Hand and broken glass) 1940s
• The best photos are like Gloucester
3 and Jerome 20 where your eyes
just wander across and explore this
• By exploring the surfaces of the things
that Siskind found tearing away from
walls or from detritus in the street
is important because he found a
language that paralleled the line of
thought that was being developed by
the Abstract Expressionist painters:
Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning,
and Franz Kline.
Jerome 20 1949
Gelatin silver print, 1957