Writing this entry, I'm reminded of the principle of Six Degrees of Separation; in this version, the photographer Aaron Siskind's connection to writers is traced in turn to other photographers, and on, and on, until I've practically forgotten what I started to write about. No matter.
Siskind, a short man with a tall personality, was well-connected in the cultural circles of his time, both within and outside the photographic world. In addition to close friendships with painters and sculptors (Franz Kline in particular), Siskind, formerly an English teacher and originally a poet, knew a number of mid-20th century literati; his photographs appear on the covers of some of their books.
Perhaps due to its abstract quality, Siskind's imagery from the mid 1940s and later seems particularly suited to poetry. Simultaneously concrete and non-representational, self-contained and open-ended, the work itself shares an emotional and existential kinship with a great deal of modern poetry.
The scrawled quality of the cover text for poet Howard Nemerov's book, The Next Room of the Dream, provides a fitting counterpoint to the haunting and dissipated elegance of Siskind's Chicago facade, as well as an extension of the graffito on the left-hand column. One might imagine equally compelling photographs for this cover by the likes of Ralph Eugene Meatyard or Clarence John Laughlin (Note: Meatyard's poet friend and sometime collaborator, Jonathan Williams, used Siskind's photograph 'Feet #102' for the cover of his collection of essays, 'The Magpie's Bagpipe').
Nemerov had published four books of poetry, three novels and a collection of short stories by the time The Next Room of the Dream went to press. His younger sister, Diane, learned photography from her husband, Allan Arbus, and eventually achieved, albiet tragically, the status of a legend (Allan Arbus later became an actor, playng the role of the psychologist on the television comedy M*A*S*H). The publication date for Nemerov's book, 1962, is also considered to be the pivotal year in which Diane Arbus switched from 35mm to the 6cm Rolliflex, establishing what was to become her signature visual style.
At least two books by Isabella Gardner (That Was Then and The Looking Glass) also have Siskind covers. Gardner, a poet, sometime actress and great niece of Isabella Stewart Gardner, married portrait and dance photographer Maurice Seymour. Their son, Danny, became a photographer and filmmaker, producing a single book of word and image before his untimely death in 1973. Danny Seymour's soulful photographic autobiography, A Loud Song, along with Larry Clark's Tulsa, were the first two books published by Ralph Gibson's seminal Lustrum Press (they were on press at the same time, funded by Danny). Seymour went on to become Robert Frank's soundman, and eventually a heroin addict, in Frank's notorious documentary on the Rolling Stones, Cocksucker Blues.
Finally, Covering Photography notes another cover, published one year after Nemerov's book, and by the same publisher. Elder Olsen's Collected Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1963), features a photo from Joseph D. Jachna's "Water" series. Jachna, along with Ken Josephson, Ray K. Metzker and others, constituted the first generation of students under Siskind and Harry Callahan at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Of that group, Jachna is generally thought to be the photographer whose work is closest to Siskind's in spirit.