The Surreal, Fantastic Art of Frederick Sommer

Frederick Sommer (September 7, 1905 – January 23, 1999), was an artist born in AngriItaly and raised in Brazil. He earned a M.A. degree in Landscape Architecture (1927) from Cornell University where he met Frances Elisabeth Watson (September 20, 1904 – April 10, 1999) whom he married in 1928; they had no children. The Sommers moved to TucsonArizona in 1931 and then Prescott, Arizona in 1935. Sommer became a naturalized citizen of the United States on November 18, 1939.

Considered a master photographer, Sommer first experimented with photography in 1931 after being diagnosed with tuberculosis the year prior. Early works on paper (starting in 1931) include watercolors, and evolve to pen-and-ink or brush plus drawings of visually composed musical score. Concurrent to the works on paper, Sommer started to seriously explore the artistic possibilities of photography in 1938 when he acquired an 8×10 Century Universal Camera, eventually encompassing the genres of still life (chicken parts and assemblage), horizonless landscapes, jarred subjects, cut-paper, cliché-verre negatives and nudes. According to art critic Robert C. Morgan, Sommer’s “most extravagant, subtle, majestic, and impressive photographs—comparable in many ways to the views of Yosemite Valley’s El Capitan and Half Dome by Ansel Adams—were Sommer’s seemingly infinite desert landscapes, some of which he referred to as ‘constellations.'”[1] The last artistic body of work Sommer produced (1989–1999) was collage based largely on anatomical illustrations.

Frederick Sommer had significant artistic relationships with Edward WestonMax Ernst, Aaron Siskind, Richard Nickel and others. His archive (of negatives and correspondence) was part of founding the Center for Creative Photography in 1975 along with Ansel AdamsHarry CallahanWynn Bullock, and Aaron Siskind. He taught briefly at Prescott College during the late 60s and substituted for Harry Callahan at IIT Institute of Design in 1957–1958 and later at the Rhode Island School of Design.

F_Sommer_Valise d'Adam_1949

Valise d’Adam, 1949

F_Sommer_Anatomy of a Chicken_1939

Anatomy of a Chicken, 1939

F_Sommer_Chicken Parts_1939

Chicken Parts, 1939

F_Sommer_Chicken Parts2_1939

Chicken Parts, 1939

F_Sommer_cut paper_1974

Cut Paper, 1974

F_Sommer_Flower and Frog_1947

Flower and Frog, 1947

F_Sommer_Found Painting_1949

Found Painting, 1949

F_Sommer_Max Ernst_1946

Max Ernst, 1946


Medallion, 1948

F_Sommer_Moon Culmination_1951

Moon Culmination, 1951

F_Sommer_The Giant_1946

The Giant, 1946

Venus, Jupiter and Mars, 1949

Venus, Jupiter and Mars, 1949


Paracelsus, 1959

~ by Stephen Sheffield on November 17, 2014.

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