One-Man Show

The basement of our little blue New Jersey ranch house had concrete block walls, a low acoustical-tiled ceiling, and an asphalt tile floor installed when the house was built in the ’50s. There was a sour smell of mildew, dust, and photographic developer, and even when all the overhead lights were on, it had a shadowy feeling.

My mother had relinquished this area of our home to my father and for more than forty years it served as his workspace. It was chaotic, but it was his domain. When I drove to the shore for a visit, I never went downstairs.

My father, Carroll Siskind, was a photographer. There’s a famous photographer with the same last name, but he’s someone else, no relation. My father was never famous, he never got rich, never received the kind of recognition he craved and felt he deserved. Over the years, he designed darkrooms, made prints for other photographers, taught photo classes, shot everything from models in 1950s shirtwaist dresses to industrial smokestacks and steel mills—he supported his family any way he could, as long as it had to do with photography. He made a living. But his work was taking photographs. His work was making art.

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