I’m very grateful to tPE member Mark Kirchner who turned me on to Frederick Sommer. Sommer was a controversial photographer whose work was both admired and hated. I’m in the admire camp.
The following text was taken from Jonathan Green, American Photography: A Critical History 1945 to the Present
Sommer’s images were reproduced in Aperture in 1956, 1957, 1960, and 1961. And in 1962 Aperture published a comprehensive collection. These images were more darkly and perversely psychological than [Minor] White’s; more fiercely mythic and inventive than [Harry] Callahan’s; more assiduously concerned with mortal corruption than [Aaron] Siskind’s. Those individuals who put down their reactions for Aperture knew where Sommer stood. “In a world of disturbing images,” Henry Holmes Smith wrote, “the general body of photography is bland, dealing complacently with nature and treating our preconceptions as insights. Strange, private worlds rarely slip past our guard…. Sommer has elected to show us some things we may have over-looked…. Sommer charges an ironic or absurd artifact … with the force of an ancient idea.” White wrote: “Sommer makes no concessions to the casual observer … a superficial glance at his pictures reveals about as much as a locked trunk of its contents …. He contemplates his fragments until they are the intimates of his living mind …. Frederick Sommer of Arizona is the rare one who takes time to work in the sun and in the dark, in the desert and in the camera.” And Jonathan Williams summed it all up: “With Sommer we enter the world of the incredible and somebody locks the Doors of Perception behind us …. This is simply what happens when the eye is free to see ……
By Jim McKinniss