Artist: Aaron Siskind (American, 1903–1991)
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Dimensions: 36.6 x 49.5 cm (14 7/16 x 19 1/2 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. Kaye, 1991
Accession Number: 1991.1215
Rights and Reproduction: ©Aaron Siskind Foundation.
In 1943, on a beach in Martha's Vineyard, Siskind's impulse for documentary photography, which he had been practicing as a dedicated member of the New York Photo League since the early 1930s, began to recede. Beneath it was a deeper interest in exposing the essence of life below the surface of the material world. His examination of the conflicting forces of the natural and manmade world often found him photographing painterly gestures and other markings on a concrete wall so that the wall paralleled the picture plane and the inscriptions appeared as bursts of calligraphic energy. Here Siskind has given the viewer the counterpoint of the wall's site in the natural world, squeezed as it is into the upper register of the frame. By including this sliver of treetops, he emphasizes man's incursion into his environment-calling to mind the animal instinct to mark territory after a radical change of place. America in the years after World War II would certainly qualify as a profound shift of situation; Siskind's efforts to plumb the core of experience for essential truths in his photography might be interpreted as one way of clearing a place in which to make sense of the surrounding chaos, much as the wall in this photograph blots out the natural world in order to direct attention to the light-colored, painterly gestures on a dark ground. As such, the making of the photograph seems to become a method of finding one's place in the world and forging a relationship to it.