RISD and Photography
This inaugural show celebrates the creation of the Museum’s first exhibition space dedicated to photography: The Bill and Nancy Tsiaras Gallery in honor of Aaron Siskind. On view are highlights from the work of many exceptional photographers who have been associated with RISD. Not only have they made important contributions to the history of the medium, but many have also been instrumental to the growth of the collection.
The development of the Museum’s holding in this area is closely tied to the founding of RISD’s Photography Department. Harry Callahan was hired in 1961 to initiate the program, and Aaron Siskind joined him in 1971. Callahan and Siskind were two of the 20th century’s most influential photographers, admired for their unique approaches to the medium as well as for their teaching. They drew remarkably talented students to the College, an occurrence that continues under today’s faculty.
One of the earliest programs in the country, the department was founded before photography was widely considered an art form even among museums. Happily, RISD’s Museum staff was enthusiastic about photography and set about acquiring its images with advice from the new department shortly after Callahan’s arrival. Close connections with prominent RISD faculty and alumni have remained crucial to the development of the collection. To this day, Siskind and Callahan’s association with the College continues to attract gifts to the Museum. In fact, it was their friendship with Bill and Nancy Tsiaras that led to the support for this new dedicated gallery.
Siskind was an especially generous donor because of his belief that it was essential for students to have access to a collection of historical and contemporary photographs in order to pursue their studies. In 1983, he funded the Aaron Siskind Center for Photography, a specially designed Museum study center where students may view the photography collection at regularly scheduled hours without an appointment. This important service will be expanded in the relocated Siskind Center within the Minskoff Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs in the new Chace Center, which opens on September 27, 2008.