Paracelsus (Paint on Cellophane)

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Gelatin silver print 
Image: 13-1/2 x 10-1/4 in. (34.3 x 26 cm) 
Credit Line:
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Artist 
Accession Number:
©Frederick & Frances Sommer Foundation 
Not on View

During the mid-1950s, Sommer began a series of camera-less photographs. While the practice of creating photographic prints without the use of a camera had been pioneered in the 1920s by Man Ray and László Mohology-Nagy, Sommer used his skills as a painter and draftsman to take the process in a completely new direction. To create these images, Sommer made a synthetic negative by painting on cellophane with oil paint, which was then place onto sensitized paper. The opacity of the oil, under surface tension, produced an image that when suspended between two plates of glass could be placed in an enlarger and used as a negative to print a photograph.

"Paracelsus," with its remarkable distribution of tones and textures, is suggestive of a gleaming, armored torso. Sommer titled this photograph after Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus (1493-1541), a noted figure in the realms of alchemy and medical science. Sommer was among those who sought the reintegration of physics and metaphysics.

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