Aaron Siskind, an artistic photographer known for his black-and-white abstract photographs in which the original subject was rarely recognizable, has died in Providence, R. I. He was 87.
Siskind, considered a major figure in the development of modern photography, died Friday in Miriam Hospital after suffering a stroke at his Providence home.
Often compared to the abstract artists who were his close friends, including painter Franz Kline, Siskind concentrated on such close-up details of nature such as lava flows and of objects, such as walls with peeling paint.
Photographs from his travels in his later years to Mexico, South America and Morocco were exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1986.
More than 100 of his photographs are included in the Getty Museum photography division's collection, and are displayed regularly at the Getty.
Born in New York City, Siskind attended City College and became an English teacher. He became attracted to photography after receiving a box camera as a wedding gift.
During the Depression, he joined the Film and Photo League, a left-wing group committed to using photography to promote social justice. His career as a serious photographer began in 1932 with the group's photo essay "Harlem Document."
He later reflected: "For some reason or other, there was in me the desire to see the world clean and fresh and alive, as primitive things are clean and fresh and alive. The so-called documentary picture left me wanting something."
By the 1940s, he had switched to photographing such abstract objects as rocks.
"For the first time in my life, subject matter, as such, had ceased to be of primary importance," he said. "Instead, I found myself involved in the relationships of these objects, so much so that these pictures turned out to be deeply moving and personal experiences."
Siskind, known among friends for his amusing anecdotes, frequently told of a woman who bought one of his photographs, and asked if she could hang it upside down. Siskind replied that he would prefer for her to view it standing on her head.
He taught from 1951 to 1971 at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and from 1971 to 1976 at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
As an octogenarian, Siskind remained active, traveling and photographing in Africa, Central and South America and Europe.
His photographs are published in several books, including "Places" in 1976 and "Road Trip, Photographs 1980-88" in 1989.
Siskind is survived by a daughter, two sisters and two grandchildren. Memorial services are planned Friday in Providence and Feb. 20 in New York City.