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Frederick Sommer

Text from The Photography Encyclopedia

Sommer, Frederick
American, 1905-1999

Sommer, Frederick: American landscape and art photographer

Shifting focus from his training as a landscape architect, Sommer produced over his lifetime a body of work that began with Arizona landscapes and moved on to increasingly surrealist images of found objects and a number of experimental techniques that involve superimposed images, distortion, cameraless pictures, and manipulated negatives.

Born in Italy and raised in Brazil, he came to the United Stated to study and received a master of arts degree in landscape architecture from Cornell University in 1927. He then returned to Brazil, but after contracting tuberculosis he went to Switzerland to convalesce. It was there that he became interested in photography. He continued his recovery in Arizona, where he lived since the early 1930s.

In 1935 on a trip to New York he met Alfred Stieglitz at his An American Place gallery. He later met Paul Strand and Edward Weston. They all encouraged his work, but the results could not have been more different from their own vision. Many of his photographs are carefully constructed creations, painstakingly arranged for his camera, surrealistic compositions of found, discarded objects, from dead animals to bits of torn paper and broken toys.

He had his first one-person show in 1946 in Santa Barbara, California, and has been exhibited consistently ever since. He won a 1974 Guggenheim award, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1973. His photographs are held by private and public collections, including those of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the George Eastman House. His books include Frederick Sommer at Seventy Five (1980).


 


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