Sunday, March 3, 2013

Aaron Siskind

In Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1944, Aaron Siskind experienced what can only be described as a change of vision. He had been producing still lifes—“a discarded glove, two fish heads and other commonplace objects which I found kicking around on the wharves.” He recalls. But now he looked at these items in a completely new way. “For the first time in my life,” he said, “subject matter as such had ceased to be of primary importance.”

 It was a total about-face for Siskind. Since the 1930s he had been photographing such documentary themes as Harlem tenements and Bowery bums. Subject matter had been the whole point. Now the subject was all but unrecognizable. His close-ups of stone walls and peeling posters, like canvases by a nonrepresentational painter. The picture itself not the scene it shows has become Siskind’s vehicle for conveying impact and emotion.

Indeed, Siskind’s new-found vision is the inevitable step after the “equivalents” of Alfred Stieglitz and the “sequences” of Minor White, in which forms found in nature rendered precisely and directly with the camera, are offered as expressions of the photographer’s own state of mind. “I’m not interested in nature,” Siskind contends, “I’m interested in my own nature.”  --Life Library of Photography, The Great Photographers, p.222

Upon discovery, I immediately liked Siskind’s abstract images. I consider my abstracts to be similar that they come from the same source however they are quite different. However, where Siskind has had the most influence on my thinking is in his series The Terrors of Levitation which I first saw at the Dallas Museum of Art back in the 1960s. I did not understand them. Didn’t particularly like them but I bought the show catalogue. It took me years to warm to Siskind’s photographs of young men suspended in midair. Now I see them as an extension of his interest in abstract, but I also see them as a ballet of the human form divorced from gravity. I don’t know that I enjoy them from the same perspective as Siskind but I have found where they fit into my photography and enhance my vision. This is a long story and maybe someday I will tell it. The primary reason for including this brief bio here is the last sentence of the last paragraph, “I’m not interested in nature; I’m interested in my own nature.” In my opinion, that is a very important statement on photography.

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