Aaron Siskind


At The Water's Edge
July 7 – August 26, 2011

The Egan Gallery Years 1947-1954
May 15 – June 28, 2008

Small Wonders
July 6 – August 25, 2006

Aaron Siskind 100
October 16 – December 6, 2003

Aaron Siskind (1903-1991) was born in New York City. After graduating from the College of the City of New York in 1926, he taught high school English for over twenty years at New York City public schools. Although music and poetry were his first passions, he became interested in photography in 1930 while on his honeymoon in Bermuda. He began his photography career as a documentary photographer after joining the New York Photo League in 1932. He worked on the notable photo-essays Harlem Document, Dead End: The Bowery, Portrait of a Tenement, and St. Joseph's House: The Catholic Worker Movement.

Beginning in the early 1940s, Siskind began to abandon representational work, favoring an abstract visual language similar to those used by his friends Franz Kline, Barrett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko. Siskind also began to exhibit work at the Charles Egan Gallery, which specialized in Abstract Expressionism at the time. For the rest of his life, Siskind continued to explore and refine a vision that depended on the shallow plane, and utilized delicate, minimal designs. "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." Siskind's style of gesture and nuance, a new form of visual calligraphy, dominated his work for the next forty years, and ran parallel to the developments of his colleagues. Siskind was not only a critical figure in modern photography, but also influenced the work of painters of that period, including Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Rauschenberg.

In 1951, Harry Callahan invited Siskind to join the faculty of the Institute of Design in Chicago, where he suceeded Callahan as head of the photography program when Callahan retired from the position in 1961. In 1963, Siskind helped found the Society for Photographic Education. Siskind and Callahan worked together once more beginning in 1971, when Siskind took a position at the Rhode Island School of Design where Callahan was also a professor. Siskind continued to teach at RISD until retiring in 1976. Siskind died in Providence, Rhode Island in 1991.

The Aaron Siskind Centennial Celebration took place during 2003-2004 with exhibitions at more than a dozen institutions across the country, each devoted to a different period or theme of the his life and work. Among these was Robert Mann Gallery's exhibition, Aaron Siskind 100. Robert Mann Gallery presented Aaron Siskind: The Egan Gallery Years 1947-1954 from May 15 through June 28, 2008. This exhibition drew upon works from four seminal exhibitions by the artist at the Egan Gallery between April 1947 and June 1954.