Artists & Designers

Aaron Siskind (1903-1991)

The following essay was originally published in connection with the exhibition Aaron Siskind: Fifty Years_, which opened at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1986. _

When Aaron Siskind describes his photographs, he speaks of revelations, forces, energy, tension, emotion, order, conflict, ambiguity, and meaning. It is his way of telling us that his photographs are about transforming the substance of the world into poetry. Human relationships, politics, nature, and the drama of the whole—the "oneness" of reality, in Siskind's words—are the aesthetic concerns that dominate his inner being.

In the realm of the artist's psyche, poetry is the essence of perception, and communicating that poetry in tangible form becomes a lifelong challenge. The history of photography is replete with examples of artists who began their careers as something other than photographers; musicians, writers, and booksellers are among the more well-known converts. Siskind was a public school English teacher, and not unhappily so, until life thrust a new set of possibilities in his path during the early 1930s. The fact that he chose to manifest his poetry predominantly in photography rather than in the written word, music, or painting is, as in the case of many others before him partly the result of lifes circumstances. . . Although he enjoyed a brief time of writing poetry and the ambience of the group of painters who became his friends (Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko, among others), it was not until he made a commitment to photography that all the elements of his creativity seemed to be satisfied.

Siskind's work extends over a period of fifty years. If the legacy of revolutionary creative photography for the first half of this century belongs to artists like Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz, then the last half of this century is indebted to Siskind for his equally original vision and for his creation of a unique iconography that conveys photographically things felt as things seen. . . Siskind is truly a photographer of the world, with not a trace of regionalism or provincialism evident in his work. His photographs, whether made in Europe, South America, or a dozen different cities, are about the universal soul of each place—wherever the hand of man has left traces of his existence hidden in the substance of walls, of ruins, or in the shadow of shadows


Excerpt from

  • James L. Enyeart, "Aaron Siskind: Fifty Years, June 8-August 10," DMA Bulletin Summer 1986, page 18.

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