Frederick Sommer: Master Photographer

The Norton Simon Museum presents Frederick Sommer: Master Photographer.  The Museum's collection of rare prints by Sommer—selected and donated by the artist in 1965—is one of the largest in the United States.

Sommer was a painter and a landscape architect before meetings with Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston in the 1930s turned him towards the photographic arts. His work during the late 1930s and 1940s developed under the influence of Surrealism, and earned him his first recognition as a photographer. In the 1950s and 1960s, he created the remarkable works on view in this exhibition, which draw similarities to paintings, drawings, and prints of the 1950s by Tobey, Pollock, and de Kooning.

These abstract and semi-abstract images were made in unusual ways, often without using a camera. He employed a series of special techniques around which this exhibition has been arranged. The first set of unique negatives was made in 1956 with oil paint on cellophane, suspended between two glass plates, placed in an enlarger, then printed as ordinary negatives. The second series, starting in 1961, was made with smoke on cellophane. In 1962, he started his work with smoke on glass, and paper cut by hand. From the same era comes a series of soft-focus nudes conceived as luminous metaphors. Sommer brings to the structure and surface of each image all of his sensibilities as a painter, poet, philosopher, calligrapher, and musical composer. Each of his photographic prints is a visual voyage of discovery.