At the Crossroads of American Photography: Callahan, Siskind, Sommer

January 31 - May 13, 2009



 

Object labels for the exhibition

Lynne Harrison (American, born 1938)
Portrait of Harry Callahan, 1966
Collection of the Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Gift of the artist, 77.048.003. © Lynne Harrison
 
Harry Callahan (1912-1999) was born in Detroit. In 1934, he married Eleanor Knapp, who became his frequent model. Callahan began photographing in 1938 and joined the Chrysler Camera Club, where he met Ansel Adams and Arthur Siegel. Callahan credited Adams with teaching him both the spiritual and technical vocabulary of photography and inspiring him to make contact prints with a large-format camera. In 1944, Callahan began working in the Chrysler darkroom printing publicity and product images. In 1946, László Moholy-Nagy asked him to come to Chicago to teach photography at the Institute of Design, originally founded as the New Bauhaus. In 1948, The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented two photography exhibitions that included prints by Callahan, Aaron Siskind and Frederick Sommer. In that same year, Callahan met Siskind. They cemented their friendship during the summer of 1951 when both taught at the experimental Black Mountain College alongside painters Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline; conceptual composer John Cage; and choreographer Merce Cunningham. The young artists Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly were students. In 1947­60, portraits of Eleanor featured prominently in Callahan's work, sometimes joined by their daughter, Barbara, following her birth in 1950. When Callahan and his family spent sabbaticals abroad, Sommer would replace him as a visiting professor. In 1961, Callahan left the Institute of Design to become the head of the photography department at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, where he taught until his retirement. In 1975, his archive, along with those of Siskind and Sommer, was one of the five founding archives for the Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, Tucson.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Portrait of Aaron Siskind, 1951
Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of Hallmark Cards Inc., 2005.27.832
 
Aaron Siskind (1903-1991) was born in New York and attended The City College of New York with friends Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb, future Abstract Expressionist painters. Siskind's early fascination with Socialist ideals led him to document the slums of New York, photographing with the Workers Film and Photo League while making a living teaching high-school English. He became the only photographer to join the inner circle of the Abstract Expressionists, including Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt. In 1948, encouraged by his New York dealer, Siskind set off on a road trip that would introduce him to Harry Callahan in Chicago. Siskind and Callahan went on a photographic expedition to a disused car lot, exploring their common interests and becoming immediate friends. In 1949, Siskind met Sommer in Prescott and the two spent three months photographing together in Arizona before Siskind returned to New York. In 1951, Siskind was the only photographer included in The Ninth Street Art Exhibition organized by Leo Castelli, which featured prominent artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Also in 1951, Siskind accepted Callahan's invitation to teach photography at Chicago's Institute of Design. There, Siskind organized an exhibition of Frederick Sommer's work and brought Sommer in to replace Callahan during his sabbaticals. Funded by numerous grants, Siskind traveled to Mexico, Peru, Greece and Italy to photograph. In 1971, he followed Callahan to Providence to teach at the Rhode Island School of Design. Siskind was a founding member of both the Society for Photographic Education and the Visual Studies Workshop, an experimental graduate photography program in Rochester, New York.
 
 
Edward Weston (American, 1886 - 1958)
Untitled, no. 9 [portrait of Frederick Sommer], 1944
Collection of Naomi F. Lyons, Prescott, Arizona. ©1981 Arizona Board of Regents
 
Frederick Sommer (1905-1999), was born in Angri, Italy, raised and rigorously educated in Brazil, studying architecture and landscape architecture. He was proficient in German, Italian, Portuguese and English. After marrying Frances Elisabeth Watson, whom he met while completing his M.A. at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, Sommer contracted tuberculosis. The couple traveled to Europe for his recuperation. While abroad, Sommer began experimenting with photography. In Paris, he saw modernist, Futurist and Cubist exhibitions. Following this trip, in 1931 the Sommers came to Arizona for the climate and settled in Prescott in 1935. After meeting the famed photographer Edward Weston in 1936, Sommer acquired an 8 x10-inch and was included in a number of East and West Coast museum exhibitions. In 1949, Sommer was visited by Siskind. They immediately become fast friends, sharing their interest in classical music, musical scores, poetry and photography. Sommer taught Siskind games he extrapolated from Surrealism, and the two photographed together in nearby ghost towns. At Siskind's suggestion, Sommer replaced Callahan at the Institute of Design during his sabbatical leave in 1957­58 and Siskind in 1963; and replaced Callahan again at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1973. Sommer taught briefly at Prescott College during the late 1960s. He and Frances traveled abroad and sojourned in Japan in 1969. In 1974, Sommer received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship-an honor extended to Callahan and Siskind as well.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Weed against Sky, Detroit, 1948
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Callahan met Ansel Adams in 1941 at a workshop and was deeply influenced by his work. Callahan considered this photograph as the first time he broke with Adams's ideas about tone and texture: "I was photographing weeds in snow. I looked through the camera and I just saw the lines." Later, Callahan tilted the camera toward the sky to eliminate all other elements of the picture. This high contrast print further reduces the world to essential forms.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Telephone Wires, ca. 1950s
Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.816
 
Telephone Wires, ca. 1950s
Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.867
 
Telephone Wires, ca. 1950s
Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.868
 
Using a reductionist approach to complexity, Callahan depicted criss-crossing telephone wires silhouetted against the sky as symbols of modernity, communication and electricity, but also more essentially as simply lines, rhythm and tension. Callahan explained: "It's the subject matter that counts, but I'm interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it."
 
 
Harry Callahan
Ivy Tentacles on Glass, Chicago, ca. 1952
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Callahan painstakingly arranged this composition, influenced by the abstract paintings he saw in New York. The background appears white because he laid the ivy tentacles on a sheet of glass lit from behind using a white cardboard reflector.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Eleanor, 1951
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
In this image of his wife, Eleanor, overlaying a view of a thicket, Callahan has drawn a deep connection between the feminine and nature. She is shown silhouetted in the window of their open-plan Chicago apartment, a vast space that was once a ballroom. Callahan's use of multiple exposures was certainly encouraged by the influence of Bauhaus practitioners such as László Moholy-Nagy and Arthur Siegel, but he had experimented with multiple exposures before moving to Chicago.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, 1953
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Much of Callahan's portraiture of Eleanor is from the first few years of their daughter Barbara's life, when Eleanor, previously the primary bread-winner, took an extended leave from work. Although it resembles a snapshot, this image has an underlying complexity of lines, patterns and planes. Callahan used a large-format, 8x10-inch camera; the resulting negatives produce detailed images of great clarity.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Collage, Chicago, 1957
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Callahan began experimenting with collage by cutting up magazines such as Vogue and Harper's. He pinned printed fragments of models' heads and eyes up on the wall and then transformed them back into a single, unified photograph.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Grasses, Wisconsin, 1959
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
The overall composition of Callahan's iconic image of grasses, its gestural linearity, graphic contrast and shallow two-dimensional space, parallel the formal investigations seen in abstract painting at this time.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Light Abstraction, 1946
Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.850
 
Camera Movement on Flashlight, 1946 ­ 47
Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.845
 
This image was made the year Callahan began teaching at the Institute of Design, Chicago, founded by Moholy-Nagy and dedicated to design, form and experimentation-and the philosophy of the Bauhaus. The study of light was emphasized in the curriculum. Callahan began experimenting with light by moving his camera while photographing a flashlight in the darkroom. The resulting abstract, linear images were akin to the calligraphic, automatic drawings of the Surrealists. Like Siskind and Sommer, Callahan felt an affinity for the effects of chance and spontaneity.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Aix-en-Provence, France, 1957
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Like Sommer's Arizona Landscape and Siskind's Badlands 72, Callahan's Aix-en-Provence, France is similarly dense, textural and "horizonless." Callahan's tangled forest of trees, lines, shadows and branches provide no entry point for the viewer and demands close inspection and total absorption.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Eleanor, 1953
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Callahan continually recorded his wife, Eleanor, seeking to create new associations and meanings within the parameters of a single subject. Here, he was experimenting with out-of-focus imagery. Callahan printed the silhouetted forms of his wife and daughter in extreme contrast, to emphasize their presence without referencing their individual identities or physicality.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Providence, 1967
Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.153
 
Providence demonstrates Callahan's use of in-camera multiple exposures to create a layered, collagelike image with its own internal syntax. A variation of Siskind and Sommer's "found collages," this rare print is an example of Callahan's reliance on chance and the unknown. He intuitively placed the looming screen of the television over the image of the woman, working in the blind zone of the double exposure, and thus produced a tension-laden image of urban loneliness, isolation and voyeurism.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Eleanor, Chicago, 1949
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Eleanor, Chicago is an image of life and death. Eleanor appears as a Venus emerging from a primordial sea but also as a disembodied head, with closed eyes and a strangely disturbing, surreal pall.
 
 
Harry Callahan
Eleanor, Indiana, 1948
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Taken at the dunes alongside Lake Michigan, Eleanor, Indiana tells the story of its own evolution. Footsteps in the sand record Eleanor's movements as Callahan sent her in one direction and then another. Callahan said of this picture: Once I was photographing my wife with a big 8x10 camera on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. She was standing there smiling, and it looked just like a snapshot. I thought, "This is terrific. After I print it, I'll make 8x10 snapshots." So I started doing that. That's the unexpected. I'm trying to answer the unexpected.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation 25, 1957
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
This early example of the iconic series "Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation" illustrates Siskind's use of scale, stark contrast and bold abstraction. Simultaneously balanced in stasis, yet disturbingly excised from context, the levitating subject is hermetically sealed by Siskind's obliteration of all contextual information. Free fall in a fetal position, he seems related to the widespread interest in existentialism during the 1950s: man isolated, autonomous and in the moment.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Chicago 10, 1948
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Chicago 10 is an example of Siskind's interest in the "found image" and graffiti. This central, abstracted feminine form evokes an archetypal human presence. An urban hieroglyphic, the found image emerges from the scrawled, gestural pattern on a weathered wall.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
North Carolina 30, 1951
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
This image is an example of Siskind's found collages of layered imagery, perhaps related to the free-association Surrealist games he and Sommer played together during his sojourn in Arizona. Here, Siskind framed random language and image to insinuate meaning. The female with three legs (captured between the words "IN" and "AND") is in an overt sexual reference.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Badlands 72, 1970
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
On a six-day road trip to South Dakota with two of his students, Siskind made a series of abstract landscapes, "Badlands." The ambiguity of scale and textures of the rock parallel similar features seen in Siskind's earlier, urban found abstractions. The tight cropping and full-frame image create tension at the edge, giving it an other-worldly feel as in Sommer's "horizonless" landscapes.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Homage to Franz Kline, Lima 63, 1975
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
This work belongs to an extensive, essentially painterly photographic series made to honor Franz Kline, the pivotal Abstract Expressionist painter who had been Siskind's close friend during his time in New York. Throughout the series, Siskind focused closely on found abstractions that resemble the broad black brushstrokes of Kline's gestural canvases.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Saguaros 2, 1949
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Siskind's image of a dying saguaro dates from his photographic excursions with Sommer in Arizona. Siskind's great interest in texture and gesture are evident here, as the cactus's failing arms stretch calligraphically against the sky.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Jerome, Arizona, 1949
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Siskind visited Sommer in Prescott, Arizona, in 1949, and ended up renting a cottage in the Mountain Club (where Sommer lived) for several months; he used Sommer's darkroom. This well-known image of a peeling wall in the nearby mining town of Jerome represents Siskind's interest in finding incidents of abstraction within the world. Siskind shared this preoccupation with the Abstract Expressionists, many of whom were his friends. Siskind believed that the thing being photographed "serves only a personal need and the requirements of the picture," rather than reality.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Gloucester 1H, 1944
 
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
This image of a glove lying discarded on a wharf represents Siskind's significant shift from documentary photography to what he called the "drama of objects." In his photographs, Siskind created visual relationships that corresponded with his interior world. Describing in 1945 the work he made during this time, he stated: "Essentially, then, these photographs are psychological in characterit seems to me that this kind of picture satisfies a needthe interior drama is the meaning of the exterior event."
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Chicago 206, 1953
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Through abstraction and metaphor, Siskind helped detach photography from a dependence on subject specificity. He remarked: "I found marks which brought me very close to the people who had made these marks-writings which had obvious meanings-uninhibited writings whose meanings were indecipherable." Chicago 206, a "found" collage of letters, numbers, and blocks of color, records the wall's many histories but reveals none of its mysteries.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Chicago 42, 1952
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
"It is as though the wall was a kind of a mirror image of a world. But the mirror image is already one step toward my picture." Thus, Siskind claimed that a wall offered a ready-made flat plane just waiting to be assimilated into a photograph. The paint splotches are organized neatly into a geometric grid reminiscent of an architectural façade. However, the haphazard drips of the paint interrupt the orderly world with the chaos of gestural painting.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Seaweed 2, 1943
 
Seaweed 7, 1953
 
Seaweed 8, 1953
 
Martha's Vineyard 9, 1947
 
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
In the early 1940s, while on vacation from his job teaching high school in New York, Siskind spent his summers at Martha's Vineyard. His studies of seaweed variously mimic a found letter, a loop symbolizing infinity, a descent into chaos, a shifting Rorschach inkblot, rearranged by the flux of sand and surf. He commented: "I was operating on a plane of ideas. The shift was from description to idea and meaning. That is what changed my course from documentary photography to something else."
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Martha's Vineyard 108, 1954
 
Martha's Vineyard, 1954
 
Martha's Vineyard IIIb, 1954
 
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Siskind made numerous studies of balancing rocks at Martha's Vineyard, silhouetting them against a white sky suspended in a horizonless frame. The arrangement of the rocks underscores the importance of contiguity, each rock held in equilibrium by its relationship to another. Siskind explained: "For the first time in my life subject matter, as such, had ceased to be of primary importance. Instead, I found myself involved in the relationships of these objects, so much so that these pictures turned out to be deeply moving and personal experiences."
 
 
Aaron Siskind
Chicago 231B, 1954
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Similar to the Abstract Expressionists' embracing the flatness of the canvas, Siskind emphasized the flat plane of the photograph rather than illusionistic space. Here, the photograph freezes the sense of gesture and intention in the act of paint flung against the wall; drips record the passage of time and reveal the traces of how the mark was made.
 
 
Aaron Siskind
San Luis Potosi 16, 1961
 
Irapuato 2, 1961
 
Collection of Barbara and Gene Polk, Prescott, Arizona
 
Siskind visited Mexico in 1955 and again in 1972, eventually traveling further to Peru. On his journeys, he became entranced with disintegrating handbills pasted onto walls. He commented: "Even the way posters are torn or the way they are laid over each other. Different shapes that are related to the gestures of the guy who put the glue on." Each tatter reveals fragments of letters, evoking memory and the object's history.
 
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Coyotes, 1945
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
In this image, one of Sommer's best-known photographs, the desiccated bodies of coyotes refer to the cycles of life and death in nature. Hunters had left the bodies to decay in the Arizona desert. Despite being a grotesque example of cruelty and waste, the four coyotes appear gracefully frozen in time, as though they are on the verge of leaping outside the frame. Sommer enjoyed the ambiguity of the subject precariously perched between life and death.
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Venus, Jupiter and Mars, 1949
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
Venus, Jupiter and Mars is a prime example of Sommer's practice of arranging and photographing "found objects." Drawing on his erudite literary knowledge and probably his close friendship with Max Ernst, the Surrealist painter, Sommer titled the three figures, visible amidst shreds of a found poster, after the Roman gods. Sommer explained: "Then you might ask, is it legitimate to arrange anything? Yes and you then have to work with the consequences of what you have done."
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Untitled (Jarred Figure), 1960
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
Sommer's abstraction of the figure is deliberately philosophical, a reference to Plato's ideals of worldly things. He was interested in conveying the living energy of the figure and disembodying physical form. Here, the figure becomes a surreal apparition. This is one of a series of jarred images Sommer made of Lee Nevin (a neighbor's daughter), created by moving the camera during the exposure. His experimental process recalls Callahan's blurring of the flashlight beam by moving his camera. Earlier in the year, Sommer had visited Siskind in Chicago, then embarked on a three-month trip to Europe, during which he used the same technique.
 
Frederick Sommer
Arizona Landscape, 1943
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
Sommer was struck by the "surreal qualities" of the changing desert landscape with its harsh beauty and symbols of mortality. He avoided traditional compositional devices and landscape conventions and required that the viewer look closely and patiently. He made numerous, meticulous "horizonless" landscapes that disorient distance and scale. These images seemed radical for the time. Photo historian Nancy Newhall, after being introduced to this work by Edward Weston, criticized Sommer's "preoccupation with themes of death and disintegration." But according to Keith F. Davis, these images "convey an air of eternity. Vistas of rocks and cacti become as sublime as the starry night sky."
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Untitled (Paint on Cellophane), 1957
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
In 1957, Sommer began applying paint to cellophane, which he then used like a negative in the enlarger. Thus, he initiated his ongoing investigation into cameraless negatives and the marriage of photography and painting. The cellophane images are isolated, dynamic painterly gestures, suspended in time and a step removed from their physicality. As he said in retrospect in 1970: "I tried not to give up painting, not to give up drawing, not to give up making musical scores. I tried to figure out ways in which all these things could be preliminary moves to becoming a photograph."
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Max Ernst, 1946
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
Sommer and his wife, Frances, regularly spent weekends with the Surrealists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning when the latter lived in Sedona, Arizona, from 1946 until the mid-1950s. The two men had become enthusiastic friends after discovering their shared interest in Surrealist influences and literature when they met years earlier in Los Angeles.
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Found Painting, 1949
Collection of Marc Freidus, New York
 
Sommer's image dates from the same year as his first prolonged exchange with Siskind and reflects his influence. Although Sommer had been photographing found objects for several years, this work is a leap further into abstraction. This "found" gestural abstract painting is actually a weathered board that Sommer discovered in 1948, acquired, and kept in his dining room (where it remains to this day). He said: "This board, weather-stained and covered with the most beautiful tar stains, is completely unbelievable."
 
Frederick Sommer
Eight Young Roosters, 1938
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona, P.087.s.t.1938
 
Sommer injected this evidentiary photograph with disquietingly surreal specimens of chicken parts. Each of eight rooster entrails lies within a carefully penciled grid-a reference to rationalism and the ability of photography to create "scientific order." Sommer began to make these photographs after becoming intrigued by the contents of the butcher's refuse bin at the local Piggly Wiggly; he took the discarded parts home to photograph in his studio.
 
Frederick Sommer
Circumnavigation of the Blood, 1950
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
Circulation of the blood is always circumnavigation of the world. We do not have it in our guts to misplace ourselves in such a way that we are uncomfortable where we go. This, from a photographer's standpoint, is an important clue. I know now (and should have known earlier) that we are incapable of ever seeing anything new. Consequently, we would never photograph anything unless we have become attentive to it because we already have a part of it within ourselves. As we go around, whether we are painters or photographers, we are only paying attention to those things which already have occupied us, or, better still, are so much a part of us that we lean into the next situation finding that we are already there.
--Frederick Sommer, lecture, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1983
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Valise d'Adam, 1949
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
This assemblage of metal and doll parts is an early example of Sommer's interest in found artifacts. A disconcerting head is perched atop oversize arms that reach down to an adult body. Across the torso, a smaller, naked baby lies positioned as if in utero. Sommer created new visual relationships by arranging disparate objects compressed into the flattened space of a photograph. Like the Surrealists-influenced by themes such as chance, unexpected juxtapositions and automatism-Sommer became interested in the rearranged picture, the collection of objects and the urge to accumulate.
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Untitled (Musical Score), 1950s
ink on paper
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
Inspired by a visit to a music library, Sommer began drawing musical scores, which he saw as the interweaving of handwriting and drawing, language and art. Visual and formal relationships are the core of these pictures. As Sommer stressed: "The issue is structure. The structure of the sheet. The structure of the statement." Interestingly, Sommer did not read music and did not intend these works as scores to be performed.
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Paracelsus, 1959
Collection of the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, Frederick Sommer Archive
 
Paracelsus is a cliché-verre, a photograph made from a non-camera negative. Instead of using a glass (French verre) negative, Sommer painted on a piece of cellophane, which he then inserted in a photographic enlarger to produce a print of a figure drawing. Trained as a landscape architect and a student of the Italian Renaissance painters, Sommer continued to practice precise draftsmanship in his art.
 
 
Frederick Sommer
Heraclitus, 1964
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
This photograph is printed from a very delicate and unique negative made with built-up soot from a candle. Sommer held a piece of foil scored with drawings over a flame so that fine particles of soot were deposited on the foil. He pressed the foil onto a glass plate greased with petroleum jelly and set the plate in the enlarger in place of a negative, exposing the emulsion of the photographic paper. The print is named for Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of Ephesus active around 500 BC; Heraclitus asserted that fire was the most essential material in the world.
 
Frederick Sommer
Untitled (Cut Paper), 1967
Collection of the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, Prescott, Arizona
 
Sommer began photographing cut paper in 1962, immediately following his teaching stint with Aaron Siskind at the Institute of Design in Chicago. The school's curriculum included the making of cameraless images, often using cut paper. After returning home to Arizona, Sommer experimented with cutting sheets of butcher paper with a utility knife, hanging the paper so that the remaining forms would drape themselves into a new form. Sommer would then photograph the object, making prints that reduce the form and elevate the tonal range and exactitude of the lines, commingling drawing, sculpture and photography.

 

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