November 27, 2007
Aaron Siskind is interpreted by art historians as an American abstract expressionist photographer. His work, using a large-format camera, created abstract photographs by focusing on the details of nature and architecture. He presents them as flat surfaces to create a new image out of them. These images, he claimed, stand independent of the original subject, and his images ask to be taken on much the same terms as paintings.
Aaron Siskind, Arizpe, 1966
This photography has its roots in the nonrepresentational art of the early 20th century, such as Wassily Kandinsky (an expressionist), Picasso (a cubist), and Kasmir Malevich (a Russian Constructivist), which challenged the power of realism in the visual arts. It took photography a lot longer to displace realism and establish credibility as an abstract art and it primarily came with Aaron Siskind's development of abstract expressionism:
Aaron Siskind, Chicago, 1949
During the 1950s, Siskind’s primary subjects were urban facades, graffiti, isolated figures, and the stone walls of Martha’s Vineyard. Graphic in form, the subjects of each of these series resemble script, reflecting Siskind’s interest in musical scores and poetry. However, Siskind never opted for absolute formalism for all his emphasis on ''pictorial structure'' .
The influence of Siskind can be seen in contemporary photographers, such as James P Blair's recent An Homage to Aaron Siskind
James P Blair, Paris, 1959
This kind of abstraction then broadens to explore the decayed and torn posters on walls that begin to place an emphasis on significance as well as pictorial structure:
James P Blair, Yugoslavia, 1969
And so we come to contemporary photographic practice that is shaped by the Situationist idea of detournement:
Gary Sauer-Thompson, melange, Waymouth Street, Adelaide CBD, 2007
We are a long way from the abstract expressionist concerns about the authenticity or value of a work laying in its directness and immediacy of expression, and the art work being a revelation of the artist's authentic identity as a heroic romantic artist. We are in a much harsher and gritter place, but whilst working there outside the art institution, we should not forget Siskind:
Aaron Siskind, Lima 57, 1975
He is worthy of remembrance. Siskind's photographs forswear any hint of pictorial depth and they seem as flat as any abstract painter's canvas. His latter pictures courts exactly what Abstract Expressionist painters took great pains to avoid: the suggestion of a figurative image within an abstract one.