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Prof. Boerner's Explorations

Thoughts and Essays that explore the world of Technology, Computers, Photography, History and Family.


Archive for November 25th, 2009

by Gerald Boerner


“The smallest modification of tonality affects structure.”
— Frederick Sommer

“Seeing Sommer’s artwork first hand is an experience that cannot be replicated on a screen…”
— Frederick Sommer’s Web Site

“Enthusiasm is the duty of understanding before the night fatal to remembrance.”
— Frederick Sommer

“Art is not arbitrary.  A fine painting is not there by accident; it is not arrived at by chance. We are sensitive to tonalities.”
— Frederick Sommer

“Climatic conditions in the West give things time to decay and come apart slowly. They beautifully exchange characteristics from one to another”
— Frederick Sommer

Sommer wanted to show connections between the ever-changing forms of the universe and to “teach people that imagination is the finest order.”
— Getty Exhibition

“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.”
— Jonathan Williams

“…art is images you carry. You cannot carry nature with you, but you carry images of nature. When you go out to make a picture you find you are moved by something which is in agreement with an image you already held within yourself.”
— Frederick Sommer


Frederick Sommer (1905 – 1999)

Frederick Sommer was an artist born in Angri, Italy 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 Tucson, Arizona in 1931 and then Prescott, Arizona in 1935. Sommer became a naturalized citizen of the United States on November 18, 1939.

Sommer_untitled_1961 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. The last artistic body of work Sommer produced (1989–1999) was collage based largely on anatomical illustrations.

“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.”
— Minor White

Sommer_Untitled Things 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.

Frederick Sommer had significant artistic relationships with Edward Weston, Max 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 Adams, Harry Callahan, Wynn 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.

"In a world of disturbing images, 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."
— Henry Holmes Smith

His Photographs

In a career that spanned seven decades, Sommer created paintings, drawings, and collages, as well as a small but fine body of photographs. Trained as a landscape designer, the Italian-born Sommer immigrated to the U.S. in 1925 and began to make photographs seriously in the 1930s.

Sommer_max_ernstSommer made the portrait above, of his friend the artist Max Ernst, by printing two separate negatives onto a single sheet of paper to convey the essence of Ernst’s character.

Sommer did not practice portrait photography to any great extent. However, he could not pass up the opportunity to photograph this fresh-faced child, who lived across town in Prescott, Arizona. Sommer positioned her against a parched and weathered background that he took with him to the sitting. It provides a striking contrast to her prim dress and clear, piercing eyes.

Sommer_LiviaLivia’s slightly upward-turning glance suggests that Sommer stood up behind the camera just before the exposure. Although Livia remained perfectly still, her eyes followed him as he rose.

To create this photograph, Sommer used a large-format eight-by-ten-inch camera to transform the scale of the individual elements. By moving very close to these precisely observed and arranged objects and positioning his camera directly above them, Sommer transformed their everyday quality into pictorial elements of drama and power.

Sommer_Valise d'Adam The configuration—and the title that, loosely translated, means "Adam’s carrying case"—suggests a dramatic, totemic figure from a lost civilization. Sommer expertly exploited the wide range of tones that can be coaxed from gelatin silver paper to unite a medley of found objects and create an unexpected relatedness we both recognize and question.

This horizonless view of the Sonoran Desert near Superior, Arizona, is acutely composed and packed edge to edge with descriptive power. The totem-like forms of the saguaro cactus punctuate the undulating desert floor, which is also studded with catclaw, ocotillo, and jumping cholla.

Sommer_arizona_landscape_1945 Sommer omitted the bright desert sky and flattened the scene by strategically framing the composition. His perspective encourages a more speculative viewing of the landscape, defined more by the idea of contemplation than by geographic description.

Sommer once stated, "Climatic conditions in the West give things time to decay and come apart slowly. They beautifully exchange characteristics from one to another."

Sommer_coyotes Here, the found remains of four coyotes, stripped of their pelts, present a vivid example of this natural phenomenon. The desiccated carcasses become one with the desert floor, and despite the emphatic rigor mortis of the pack, the composition is full of energy and dynamism.

Frederick Sommer, most widely known as a photographer, also maintained lifelong interests in drawing, painting, collage, poetry and prose. His photographs were first collected by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1941 as part of the Image of Freedom exhibition, and MOMA would go on to collect over 45 pieces in the coming decades. Since then over 50 museums have added Frederick Sommer’s work to their collections, through purchases and gifts, with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, CA, and the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson having the two largest holdings. More about collections can be found under Research.

Drawings in the Manner of Musical Scores

In 1934, Frederick Sommer visited Los Angeles. Walking through the art museum one day, he noticed a display of musical scores. He saw them not as music, but as graphics, and found in them an elegance and grace that led him to a careful study of scores and notation.

Sommer_untitled_1973 He found that the best music was visually more effective and attractive. He assumed that there was a correlation between music as we hear it and its notation; and he wondered if drawings that used notational motifs and elements could be played. He made his first “drawings in the manner of musical scores” that year. (After reviewing this text, Fred asked that the author refer to his scores “only” in this way. When the author suggested that it was perhaps too long to be repeated throughout the text, he laughed and said, “Well, use it at least once.”)

Of Sommer’s known works, his drawings, glue-color on paper, photographs, and writings, it is only these scores that have been a part of his creative life throughout the entirety of his artistic career. He was still drawing elegant scores in 1997. And like his skip reading, they are the closest insight to his creative process, thinking and aesthetic.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Frederick Sommer that can be found at…

Also see…

Masters of Photography: Frederick Sommer

Photographs of Frederick Sommer: A Centennial Tribute (Getty)…

by Gerald Boerner


“Thanksgiving is so called because we are all so thankful that it only comes once a year.”
— P. J. O’Rourke

“We will speed the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing …Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Once, when my feet were bare, and I had not the means of obtaining shoes I came to the chief of Kufah in a state of much dejection, and saw there a man who had no feet. I returned thanks to God and acknowledged his mercies, and endured my want of shoes with patience”
— Sadi, The Gulistan

“I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the ‘history’ I was told in second grade. But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America’s traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it’s a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all.”
— Ellen Orleans

“Thank God every day when you get up that you have something to do that day which must be done whether you like it or not. Being forced to work and forced to do your best will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle will never know.”
— Basil Carpenter

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”
— Mark Twain


Thanksgiving Day Traditions

First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_Ferris Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival. Traditionally, it is a time to give thanks for the harvest and express gratitude in general. It is a holiday celebrated primarily in Canada and the United States. While perhaps religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.

The date and location of the first Thanksgiving celebration is a topic of modest contention. Though the earliest attested Thanksgiving celebration was on September 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida, the traditional "first Thanksgiving" is venerated as having occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in 1621. The Plymouth celebration occurred early in the history in one of the original thirteen colonies that became the United States, and this celebration became an important part of the American myth by the 1800s.

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
— Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation October 3, 1863


Thanksgiving Day Celebrations…

by Gerald Boerner


“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”
— Johannes A. Gaertner

“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.”
— Frank A. Clark

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
— John F. Kennedy

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