Aaron Siskind had been interested in poetry and literature in college, and for long time believed he would become a writer. Around 1930, after moving to New York, Siskind joined the Film and Photo League, a cultural organization of the Communist Party. The social documentary or "street" photography exhibited there inspired him. Soon afterward, he bought a large-format view camera and his style began to shift toward more abstract work.
Siskind worked as a teacher throughout his life, beginning with a career teaching elementary school and junior high school English from 1926 until 1949. He resigned and briefly tried to earn his living as a photographer, but he was unable to do so. After moving to Chicago at Harry Callahan's invitation, Siskind combined his interests by teaching photography at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology for twenty years.