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Aaron Siskind

Artistís master set of contact prints of Harlem. A collection of 198 gelatin silver contact prints from negatives, 1938-1940, printed on 4" x 5" sheets by Michaela Murphy under Siskindís supervision, 1981-1982.

Aaron Siskindís photographs of Harlem have become an iconic visual statement. Recognized as a major art photographer before his death in 1991, Siskind broke ground in the area of photographic abstraction. His long photography career, however, began with the documentation of street life in New York. Siskind spearheaded the Harlem project from 1938 to 1940 at the Photo League, the center for social documentary practices which flourished in New York City from 1936 to 1951. The African-American writer and sociologist Michael Carter suggested such a socio-economic study to Siskind and his documentary production unit of advanced students, the Feature Group. The group became interested in the realities of life, not the imagined exotic city-within-a-city of the 1920s. These included Northern racism, poverty, overcrowding, and disease as well as religion and recreationófor the quarter of a million people living in the 202-square block area of Harlem. While they reveal overcrowded conditions and the more trying circumstances of life, Siskindís photographs are distinguished by an unusual humanism, which have made them classics.

The set is one of two printed in 1981-1982 by Michaela Murphy of George Eastman House directly from Siskindís negatives (housed at the George Eastman House where the other set of prints also resides). The photographs are untitled; Siskind made no captions. Nonetheless, it is the most comprehensive documentary body of Siskindís Harlem work, encompassing The Harlem Document, The Most Crowded Block and the Catholic Workerís Movement series. No other photographer did any other body of work remotely similar to this at the time. Siskind acted as his own editor and supervised the printing of these series to include prints from all of the negatives he thought worthy of saving.



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