59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum


Late 1930s

Aaron Siskind (1903–1991)

Oak Bluffs

Gelatin silver print

Gift of the artist

Aaron Siskind was an internationally known modernist photographer who is best remembered for photographs that ally him with the abstract expressionist painting movement of the mid-twentieth century. But before he became famous he was identified in the New Bedford Standard-Times as a "New York City High School English teacher and Chilmark summer visitor of 15 years standing" who did photography as a hobby.

The 1948 article did mention that his photographs were exhibited in galleries alongside paintings and that they expressed the abstract. In fact, Siskind was already much more than a hobbyist. Within three years he would be teaching photography at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 1971 he moved to the photography department of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Siskind's Tabernacle City series of photographs was one of his earliest experiments in the abstract. Exhibited at the Film and Photo League in New York in 1941, the series primarily recorded architectural details of Oak Bluffs campground cottages. The summer following the New York exhibition, the series was shown at the Martha's Vineyard Museum (then the historical society) under his direct supervision. He donated a set of the photographs to the Museum in 1941.

Even decades after his donation, the photographer continued to be engaged with the Museum. When approached regarding a new exhibition of the Tabernacle City series in 1987 he responded with a postcard offering this advice: "May I suggest that you show, along with the photographs, stereopticon views of the Camp Grounds which, I am sure, you must have in the Society's archives. (That's what we did in the 1941 show.)"