Menu

Guide to the Aaron Siskind photographs of Harlem, circa 1933-1941

Summary

Collection consists of 24 black-and-white signed prints by photographer Aaron Siskind, documenting life in New York City's Harlem neighborhoods from about 1933 to 1941. The images, produced for two photo projects, "Harlem document" and "The most crowded block in the world," feature portraits of African American men, women, and children; street scenes; images from the Apollo and Lafayette theaters, a night club, and a church; and the interiors and exteriors of tenement buildings. The gelatin silver prints measure 11x14 inches, with the image dimensions ranging from 9 1/8 x 8/1/2 inches to 11 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches. Some of the images have two copies in the collection; thus, there are 19 unique images represented by 24 prints. Acquired by the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

Collection Details

Collection Number
RL.11171
Title
Aaron Siskind photographs of Harlem
Date
circa 1933-1941
Extent
1.0 Linear Feet, 1 box; 24 prints
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Materials are in English.

Collection Overview

Collection consists of 24 black-and-white signed prints by photographer Aaron Siskind, documenting life and conditions in New York City's Harlem neighborhoods from about 1933 to 1941. These were the earliest years of Siskind's long career, and a period of experimentation in which he mingled photography with a social purpose with images emphasizing form and light rather than social content.

The majority of the images feature portraits of African American men, women, and children in various settings: on the street; in the Apollo and Lafayette theaters; in a night club; taking part in a church service; playing around abandoned houses; and posing in the bedrooms and other interior rooms of tenement buildings. A few images focus only on buildings or outdoor settings.

Siskind included these and other images in two photo projects in which he played a central role: "Harlem document" and "The most crowded block in the world." "Harlem document" was sponsored by the Photo League of New York. The second project unfolded from about 1939 to 1941 after Siskind left the Photo League; to a large extent, this project carried on the work of documenting street life in Harlem.

The gelatin silver prints in this collection are all signed by Siskind. They all measure 11x14 inches, with the image dimensions ranging from 9 1/8 x 8 3/4 to 11 3/4 x 9 7/5 inches. The year these particular prints were created is unknown. Some of the images have two copies in the collection; thus, this collection holds 19 unique images represented by 24 prints. Titles and dates originate from those accompanying original negatives donated by Siskind to the Eastman House; titles assigned by a former collector, present on the back of the prints, are also given in a separate note field in the collection guide entry for each print.

Acquired by the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

More Biographical / Historical Info

Arrangement

The prints are arranged in chronological order.

Using These Materials

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 2 full business days in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access to the Collection

Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use & Permissions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

[Identification of item], Aaron Siskind Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Head, circa 1933
(9 1/16 x 8 1/2 inches)
Collector's title: Boy's head, 1932
Box 1
Folder 1
Print RL11171-P-01
Condemned house, circa 1937-1940
(9 1/8 x 7 1/4 inches)
Collector's title: Boys in empty tenement
Box 1
Folder 2
Print RL11171-P-02
Condemned house, circa 1937-1940
(9 1/8 x 7 1/4 inches)
Collector's title: Boys in empty tenement
Box 1
Folder 2
Print RL11171-P-03
Bootblacks, circa 1937-1940
(10 3/8 x 7 3/4 inches)
Collector's title: Street scene 4
Box 1
Folder 3
Print RL11171-P-04
Wishing tree, circa 1937-1940
(6 5/8 x 10 1/8 inches)
Box 1
Folder 4
Print RL11171-P-05
Wishing tree, circa 1937-1940
(6 5/8 x 10 1/8 inches)
Box 1
Folder 4
Print RL11171-P-06
Brothers, circa 1937-1940
(10 x 7 1/8 inches)
Box 1
Folder 5
Print RL11171-P-07
Brothers, circa 1937-1940
(10 x 7 1/8 inches)
Box 1
Folder 5
Print RL11171-P-08
Storeroom, there's a rat in there, circa 1937-1940
(11 x 7 7/8 inches)
Collector's title: Girl with clothes form, Harlem
Box 1
Folder 6
Print RL11171-P-09
Storeroom, there's a rat in there, circa 1937-1940
(11 x 7 7/8 inches)
Collector's title: Girl with clothes form, Harlem
Box 1
Folder 6
Print RL11171-P-10
Cabaret strip dancer, circa 1937
(10 1/2 x 7 7/8 inches)
Collector's title: Night club 1, Harlem
Box 1
Folder 7
Print RL11171-P-11
Amateur performer, Apollo Theater, circa 1937
(9 1/4 x 7 1/8 inches)
Box 1
Folder 8
Print RL11171-P-12
Lafayette Theatre, circa 1937-1940
(11 3/4 x 8 5/8 inches)
Collector's title: Lafayette Theater 1, Harlem
Box 1
Folder 9
Print RL11171-P-13
Lafayette Theatre soldier, circa 1938
(11 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches)
Collector's title: Lafayette Theater soldier, Harlem
Box 1
Folder 10
Print RL11171-P-14
Church singer, circa 1937-1940
(8 5/8 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Folder 11
Print RL11171-P-15
Church singer, circa 1937-1940
(8 5/8 x 12 inches)
Box 1
Folder 11
Print RL11171-P-16
No known title, circa 1940-1941
(9 5/8 x 8 1/2 inches)

Collector's title: Street scene 2, Harlem. Forms part of the project "The most crowded block in the world," also shot in Harlem.

Box 1
Folder 12
Print RL11171-P-17
Backyard, circa 1937-1940
(11 x 7 3/4 inches)
Box 1
Folder 13
Print RL11171-P-18
Narrow court, 1940
(11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches)
Collector's title: Airshaft, Harlem
Box 1
Folder 14
Print RL11171-P-19
No known title, circa 1940-1941
(10 7/8 x 7 7/8 inches)

Collector's title: Bedroom through doorway, Harlem. Forms part of the project "The most crowded block in the world," also shot in Harlem.

Box 1
Folder 15
Print RL11171-P-20
No known title, circa 1940-1941
(8 5/8 x 12 inches)

Collector's title: Man in bed, Harlem. Forms part of project, "The most crowded block in the world," also shot in Harlem.

Box 1
Folder 16
Print RL11171-P-21
No known title, 1940
(11 x 8 inches)

Collector's title: Lady and lamp, Harlem. Forms part of project, "The most crowded block in the world," also shot in Harlem.

Box 1
Folder 17
Print RL11171-P-22
No known title, circa 1940-1941
(11 x 8 inches)
Collector's title: Man with lamp, Harlem. Forms part of the project, "The most crowded block in the world."
Box 1
Folder 18
Print RL11171-P-23
No known title, circa 1940-1941
(9 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches)

Collector's title: Man by bed, Harlem. Forms part of the project, "The most crowded block in the world."

Box 1
Folder 19
Print RL11171-P-24
 

Historical Note

Aaron Siskind (1903-1991) was a New York City-based photographer, and faculty member of the Chicago’s Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the Rhode Island School of Design.


Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.

Provenance

The Aaron Siskind photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 2015.

Processing Information

Processed by and encoded by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, May 2016.

Accession described in this collection guide: 2015-0208.