Aaron Siskind (American, 1903–1991)
gelatin silver print
9 7/16 in. x 7 7/16 in. (24 cm. x 18.9 cm.)
Museum Purchase, 1988.10. Artwork published under fair use.
Aaron Siskind photographed this African American woman ascending a staircase in Harlem. Perhaps he captured the moment as she returned home from work, her face positioned away from the camera. How Siskind gained access to this private, domestic space is unknown. The home is in disrepair based on the crumbling and peeling plaster ceiling, scratched bannister, and half-painted wall. For women such as the one depicted in this photograph, there were limited employment options available in urban environments. Some women in the North hired themselves out for labor by the day or any duration they could get. By the 1930s nine out of ten employed Black women worked as domestic servants and could only find seasonal or part-time employment. During the Great Depression, these women and their families learned to live with few material resources, often living in substandard conditions as a means of survival.