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Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation #58

  • Accession Number:
  • Artist:
    Siskind, Aaron
  • Date:
  • Medium:
    Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions:
    frame: 18 1/4 in x 17 1/4 in; image: 13 3/4 in x 10 1/2 in; mat: 18 in x 17 in; paper: 14 in x 12 in
  • Credit Line:
    Museum purchase


About the Photographer

Siskind, Aaron

American, 1903-1991

Aaron Siskind began his photography career as a documentarian in the New York Photo League in 1932. From 1936 to 1940 he oversaw the League's Feature Group as they created documentary photo-essays of political import including “Harlem Document,” “Dead End: The Bowery,” “Portrait of a Tenement,” and “St. Joseph's House: The Catholic Worker Movement.” In the early 1940s, his work shifted to the abstract and metaphoric as he cultivated friendships with Abstract Expressionist painters such as Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko. 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. His famous “The Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation” series (c. 1952-1965) depict the dark shapes of divers suspended mid-leap against a blank white sky. Shot with a hand-held twin-lens reflex camera at the edge of Lake Michigan in Chicago, the balance and conflict suggested by the series' title is evident in the divers' sublime contortions.

On the invitation of Harry Callahan, Siskind joined the faculty of the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1951, taking over as head of the photography program when Callahan left in 1961. Siskind and Callahan, famous for their synergy as professors and photographers, were reunited beginning in 1971 when Siskind left the Institute of Design for the Rhode Island School of Design where Callahan was a professor and Siskind continued to teach until his retirement in 1976.
Siskind died in Providence, Rhode Island on February 11, 1991 at the age of 87. The Aaron Siskind Centennial Celebration took place during 2003-2004 with exhibitions at more than a dozen institutions across the country, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography, each devoted to a different period or theme of the photographer's life and work.