Jules Aarons was a Boston University physicist who was an internationally known expert in the study of radio-wave propagation. He was also an acclaimed photographer whose work is in the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale. Aarons was born in 1921 and passed away in 2008.
Aarons worked for many years as a senior scientist at the Air Force Geophysics Research Laboratory at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts. He joined the faculty at Boston University in 1981, the year he retired from the geophysics laboratory, and helped establish Boston University's Center for Space Physics in 1987.
A pioneer in space physics, Aarons contributed to advances in satellite and global positioning technology. "Essentially, I tried to understand the effects of the earth's atmosphere on radio waves,'' he said once, describing his scientific work.
From 1980 to 1983, he was chairman of the International Radio Science Union's Commission on Ionospheric Radio Wave Propagation.
Aarons's photographs are notable for their liveliness, informality, and emotional warmth. He excelled at street photography: casual documentary images of urban life. "My basic approach to street portraits was to avoid intruding on the scene,'' he said. He began taking photographs while an undergraduate at the City College of New York.
The Boston Public Library, whose print department has an extensive collection of his photographs, held a one-man show of his work in 1999, "Into the Streets.'' Aarons also had solo shows at many other art museums, institutions, and galleries.
"I knew that the dynamics of people whose social relationships involved their neighbors and the streets could be a source of creativity,'' Aarons said.
He gravitated to Boston's old West End, before urban renewal demolished much of the neighborhood, and then to the North End. He visited with his camera, a double-lens Rolleiflex, on late afternoons and weekends.
"In 1947, I began to take black-and-white photographs with the aim to document Boston, its streets and its people, while also developing my own style. I resolved to capture the day-to-day life experiences of the people, avoiding scenes of poverty.''
Among photographers who influenced him were Sid Grossman, with whom he briefly studied, Lisette Model, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Aarons was born in the Bronx, New York. His father worked in the garment industry. After graduating from the City College of New York in 1942, he served in the Army Signal Corps, where he became interested in electronics.
After the war, he went to work at Hanscom and earned a master's degree in physics from Boston University in 1949. He went to Paris on a Fulbright grant in 1953 and earned his doctorate at the University of Paris.
Aarons used his time in France to photograph and study. He would continue to use his scientific career to contribute to his photography. Going to professional conferences, he made a point of bringing along his camera.
Thus his work includes images taken in Western Europe, India, Japan, South America, Israel, and Puerto Rico.
Aarons printed his own photographs. His eyes eventually developed an intolerance to darkroom chemicals, which caused him to abandon photography in 1981; instead, he turned his darkroom into a pickle making and bread baking facility.
Jules Aarons was equally devoted to his family as he was to his scientific and artistic pursuits. He was a loving husband to his wife Jeanette, and a great father to his two sons, Philip and Herbert Aarons. Aarons was also very devoted to his sister Muriel Torres and his three grandchildren: Zach, Sam, and Solisa Aarons.
1949, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Photographic Gallery, Cambridge MA
1951, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston MA
1951, Farnsworth Museum, Rockland ME
1951, Gallery of the Cape Art Center, Dennis MA
1951, DeCordova and Dana Museum, Lincoln MA
1954, Librairie Mistral, Paris France
1958, George Eastman House, Rochester NY
1960, Wellesley Public Library, Wellesley MA
1961, Carl Siembab Gallery, Boston MA
1965, Underground Gallery, New York NY
1967, Carl Siembab Gallery, Boston MA
1971, Newton Free Library, Newton MA
1972, Carl Siembab Gallery, Boston MA
1978, Carl Siembab Gallery, Boston MA
1999, Great Hall, Boston Public Library, Boston MA
1999, French Library and Cultural Center, Boston MA
2002, Wiggins Gallery, Boston Public Library, Boston MA
2003, DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln MA
2004, Gallery Kayafas, Boston MA
2007, Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris France
2007, Gallery Kayafas, Boston MA
2009, DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln MA
2009, Gallery Kayafas, Boston MA
2010, Campus Center Art Gallery, Fitchburg MA
2010, Boston Public Library, Boston MA
2013, The West End Museum, Boston MA
Books and Videos
- Jules Aarons: Street Portraits 1946-1976
- Jules Aarons Photographs of Paris 1953-1968
- Public Spaces/ Private Moments: The Photographs of Jules Aarons
- 2011, This Old House, This video, taken from an episode of This Old House, features interviews with Aaron Schmidt and Jules's son Philip Aarons about his photography.