Born in 1903 in New York, Aaron Siskind was a high school English teacher in New York City for 21 years before he left to peruse a full-time career in photography. As an amateur, he joined the New York Photo League in 1932, becoming more involved as the years progressed. From 1936 to 1940 he oversaw the Photo League’s Feature Group- a group of photographers that created documentary-style photo essays intended as reformist social commentary. By the 1940s, however, Siskind was moving away from social realism and towards the abstract. He became friends with many Abstract Expressionist painters, including Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Adloph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning.
Siskind’s relationship with Abstract Expressionism was so important that he was the only photographer to be included in the landmark “Ninth Street Show” (1951) curated by Leo Castelli, which defined Abstract Expressionism as an artistic movement. Siskind’s growing focus on formal artistic qualities led him to break with the Photo League in 1941. By 1951, Siskind joined the faculty of the Institute of Design in Chicago, later becoming head of the photography program in 1961. In 1971, Siskind became a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he taught until his retirement in 1976. A series of exhibitions of Siskind’s work was held across the country in 2003 and 2004 to celebrate the centennial of the photographer’s birth, including shows at the Whitney Museum of Art, New York; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson; and the Madison Art Center, Madison, Wisconsin.
tags: NC art, NC artist, North Carolina