book is widely available!
The Art of Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage
Yale University Press, New Haven and London, for the Frederick & Frances Sommer
Sites offering on-line sales (and jacket flap copy):
Barnes and Noble
Yale Univ. Press
Or check with your local bookstore!
The final book description - 12.75"h x 11.25"w, 252 pages (some
sources cite 240 from an early press release), with 175 images on 157 plates made from
digital capture, by Robert Hennessey, directly from original photographs,
drawings, collage and scores. A 17-page essay by Keith F. Davis addressing the
influences and evolution of Sommer’s work, a reprinting of the Sommer interview
from the limited edition press of Michael Torosian’s “The Constellations That
Surround Us” and a 26-page annotated chronology by April Watson with 38 figure
OFFICIAL REVIEWS - Arranged from oldest at bottom to most recent at top
starting with personal feedback. Positive reviews from Booklist, and a
Review from Publisher's Weekly came early, with the vast majority continuing to
find merit in the book, particularly '2005 Book of the Year' from the Maine
Photographic Workshops and a Wittenborn award.
While talking with Joseph Sterling (06.14.06)
about the recent accolades the Sommer book has received he wanted to add his
highest award, "The best monograph ever!" to the list.
Independent Publishers, May 19, 2006, has chosen The Art of Frederick Sommer
as winner of the Fine Art
category in the national competition - announcement
pg.2 - or their downloadable
Art Libraries Society of North America,
May 10, 2006,
George Wittenborn Memorial Book Award.
The Sommer book was one of six books recognized for excellence in art
publications at this year's conference in
Banff, Alberta, Canada.
Press release link:
Afterimage March/April 2006,
'Photo Synthesis' review by David L. Jacobs of the new books on both Frederick
Sommer and Ralph Eugene Meatyard in a comparative style, "Keith F. Davis's
The Art of Frederick Sommer is especially impressive, with excellent
reproductions and an ambitious essay by Davis that frames Sommer's work within a
variety of philosophical and aesthetic issues."
American Photo January/February 2006,
'Best Photo Books of the Year' -
"This hefty retrospective of Sommer's vast output demonstrates the
artist's many gifts and guises through the 20th century: surrealist
photographer, evocative poet, biological explorer, graphic sketch-maker, and
possessor of unquenchable curiosity and a vast imagination."
Camera Arts December 2005/January 2006,
'10 Commendable Photographic Books: Our annual look at books of note,' by Michael More,
"This lavish monograph will be best appreciated by those who appreciate people
who are very, very smart..."
Newsday, December 11, 2005 Section C insert
carried Blake Eskin's "Season's Readings Photography"
which included the book along with other recent
publications about Stephen Shore, Lee Friedlander, Loretta Lux, Milton Rogovin &
Chicago Tribune, December 4, 2005, 'Art and
Photography Expressive Compositions' by Alan Artner, "A half dozen exhibitions
celebrated this year's centenary of the birth of Frederick Sommer, but there was
just a single comprehensive study, and it turns out to be the only book in print
that surveys more than one of the legendary polymath's endeavors. His
photographs are some of the most astonishing modern works of the medium.
His drawings include musical scores that actually have been performed. His
collages are equally personal works of art. Quotations and extended
excerpts from interviews bind everything together in a lavish, exciting volume.
Brian Dillion reviews "For an artist so often styled a 'photographer's photographer' , Frederick
Sommer was just as regularly accused of not being a photographer at all.
At mid-century his work looked hermetic, obscene, less properly photographic
than eccentrically expressive of a sensibility both abstract and perverse..."
Golden Light Award
Book of the Year, announced October 13
from the Maine Photographic Workshops and the
full list of winners
and honorable mentions for all categories.
Photographer's Forum Fall 2005,
"Frederick Sommer has never received the public recognition an
artist of his stature deserves, but perhaps the publication of The Art of
Frederick Sommer and the exhibition[s] associated with it, will be a giant
step in demonstrating his talent...Sommer's work is exquisite. Plate after
richly detailed plate in this oversized book testifies to that fact..." - James
"You know the feeling. Confronted at your favorite bookstore with
stacks of irresistible new arrivals, you're momentarily overwhelmed. How do you
choose?... And you can't pass up the equally weighty, superbly designed book
devoted to The Art of Frederick Sommer (Yale)..." - Vince Aletti
Photo-Eye Magazine Summer 2005,
"This weighty new compendium is a real knockout.
Beautifully designed, and with a masterly essay by Keith F. Davis., this book is
the summation that Sommer's work has deserved but never received, until now.
While many people are familiar with the small fraction of Sommer's images that
have been widely reproduced, it is impossible to appreciate his contribution to
the arts from two or four or a half-dozen photographs. The Art of
Frederick Sommer should help alleviate our ignorance. Sommer was a true
poly-math, a Renaissance intellectual who relished poetry, philosophy, music,
art and architecture, natural history, religion, physics, biology, travel and
gourmet cooking. His art was an idea-fueled continuum that took many
forms, from photography that incorporated collage, to drawing that echoed music,
to constructed sculptures, to 'straight' landscape photographs that led him, in
turn, to collect and photograph found objects. Davis, in his essay, points
out that that the artist "photographed things in order to give life to ideas."
Or, as Sommer put it, "Anything that's alive comes about because a lot of things
go into it." His restless imagination folded multiple disparate influences
together, and this lovely, thought-provoking book traces Sommer's ideas in every
direction. The book concludes with excerpts from interviews Sommer gave
toward the end of his life, and a meticulous chronology, which gives the
excellent reproductions added contextual breadth."
- review by PH [Phil Harris]
AG Magazine AG40, July
2005, 'Books: New in Print,' "A masterclass. This thumping great
retrospective marks the centenary of the birth of Frederick Sommer. It is
a vast collection of the great artist's photography, drawing and collage
covering 60 years, and demonstrates an astonishing breadth of practice which
remains an inspiration to many."
Art on Paper, July/August 2005
The Art of Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage. Essays by Keith F.
Davis, Michael Torosian, and April M. Watson. New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 240pp., $65.
Excerpt – "Sommer (1905-1999) gets the royal treatment, with sumptuous
reproductions…[an] interpretative essay from photo historian Keith Davis, and an
Arbus-like chronology…Heavily influenced by Surrealism, [the photographs] are
driven by ideas and process, so they anticipate many things happening now, from
Bill Jacobsen's soft-focus images of desire to Joel-Peter Witkin's severed body
parts. Some of his "experiments" still seem striking…Best, to my mind, are the
landscapes done in the 1940s, when Sommer overturned photographic conventions to
give us a new view of our place in nature. Nothing like them would appear for
thirty years, until Stephen Shore."
[Review by] – Lyle Rexer
The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 17, 2005 ran an excerpt
from Keith F. Davis's essay plus some illustrations.
Daily Telegraph, June
2005,"This year marks the centennial of the birth of Frederick Sommer.
Although most widely known as a photographer, the nature of his interest
gradually shifted over a career spanning seven decades, and this dazzling
chronicle of creative genius also encompasses his paintings, drawings, collages,
poetry and prose.
Sommer's works consists of a methodical exploration of pictorial practice -
space, colour, line, surface and abstraction - and tries at the same time to
broach ideas of life and mortality. The subjects are usually mundane, yet
transformed by an approach in sympathy with a host of surrealist methods such as
unexpected juxtapositions and a blurring of fact and idea. As a result,
the images become darkly dreamy and need to be tasted one at a time.
The work is as nightmarish as it is exquisite - dizzying, horizonless
landscapes, strange collations of detritus, and topped by Sommer's notorious
biological still-life series of severed chicken heads and entrails, which are
oddly reminiscent of Da Vinci drawings.
Here [Max Ernst, 1946 accompanied the article], somewhere between hallucination
and reality, his fellow Surrealist Max Ernst hovers above and merges with
multiple layers of wood and cement. Rather than a moment captured, this is
a studied construction, made by printing two separate negatives onto a single
sheet of paper. The negatives are aligned so that our attention is
absolutely on the horizontal bar framing his eyes and forehead.
The portrait was described by Ernst as "definitive", effectively a showcase for
him "to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality
into an absolute reality". Despite the soft, gazing eyes, he appears
almost a sculptural relief carved from stone." - Lucy Davies
Library Journal, June 1, 2005
Davis, Keith F. & others.
The Art of Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage. Yale Univ.
Press in assoc. with the Frederick & Frances Sommer Foundation. 2005. c.240p.
illus. index. ISBN 0-300-10783-8. $65. photog.
marks the centenary of artist and photographer Frederick Sommer's birth. To
celebrate the occasion, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of
Art, Kansas City, and the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, will
install exhibitions. Then there's this monograph – the first to focus
exclusively on Sommer – that offers absorbing, little-known details of his life,
literary and philosophical influences, and development as an artist. Excerpts
from his poetry and sage remarks quoted in such eminent publications as
Aperture are often displayed adjacent to complementary photographs,
collages, and drawings and do much to suggest artistic intention. In his essay,
photo historian Davis (art history, Univ. of Missouri) vividly sets out the
particulars of Sommer's life and plumbs fascinating philosophical depths, adding
a valance of complexity and meaning to his powerfully visceral photographs,
collages, and more abstract drawings. Meanwhile, Michael Torosian (proprietor,
Lumiere Press, Canada) offers an interview that renders the artist's scholarly
recollections and perceptions accessible to contemporary readers. For her part,
April M. Watson, an independent art history and photography scholar, contributes
a meticulous, photo-rich chronology of Sommer's life experiences. Recommended
for all collections focusing on photography and surrealism. – [reviewed by]
Savannah Schroll, formerly with Smithsonian Inst. Libs.
May. 27, 2005, "Book shines spotlight on influential Prescott artist," by
"Most of us think of Scottsdale or Tucson as the artistic
hot spots in the state.
1935 to 1999, a case could be made that Arizona's artistic center of gravity was
Prescott, where, in a bungalow at the edge of town, Frederick Sommer lived and
This is the centennial of Sommer's birth, and it is being
celebrated with multiple exhibitions around the country and with a stunning new
coffee-table book, The Art of Frederick Sommer (Yale University Press, $65) that
will be released later this month.
Sommer was not well known, in a popular sense, but his reputation spanned the
globe among the cognoscenti: He was one of the most serious artists of the 20th
century and many photographers and artists acknowledged his influence.
As photographer Emmet Gowin says at the beginning of the new book, "In 1966, a
chance encounter with a single photograph by Frederick Sommer changed my life.
The photograph was unlike anything I'd ever seen. It could have been a detail
from any war, but with a calm so deep, so brilliantly beautiful, I knew
intuitively that Leonardo da Vinci would have embraced photography."
Gowin is professor at Princeton University, and one of the best and most
thoughtful photographers working today.
But even he would have a ways to go to be as thoughtful as Sommer. The
comparison with Leonardo is not gratuitous: Sommer was a Renaissance man, not
only because he worked in several media, but in the complete and total immersion
he had in the ideas of Western civilization. Sommer lived, breathed and exhaled
culture, as naturally as a fish swims in the sea. He did not merely read books,
he absorbed them, and they became part of his reality as much as the sky above
Prescott or the clothes he wore. Others might be autodidacts, Sommer was a
pandidact. All of history, philosophy, art and literature find themselves in his
work, but not as quotations or allusions, but rather as the complex ground that
gives his art context.
"I spend my time making connections," Sommer, who died in 1999, once said.
But if he swam like a fish in a sea of culture, his milieu was the bathysphere,
so deep that the creatures have become weird.
Sommer's photography, the medium for which he's best known, takes us to
unexplained places and untethered imaginations. His Arizona landscapes have no
horizon lines, and never have a simple subject: They are all-over textures of
rock and cactus, with no place for the eye to light. They might be surrealist
wallpaper. His still lifes are sometimes repulsive - made from dead chicken
parts or an amputated human foot - but they are unforgettable. His nudes are
purposely out of focus. He stretched the medium by photographing sliced paper or
drawings embossed on tin foil.
He made his own negatives by collecting soot or paint on cellophane and printing
them with such evocative titles as Paracelsus and The Samaritan. In his last
years, he worked on small but intricate collages of anatomical details,
rearranged into new biomorphic shapes.
Nothing Sommer did was easy or conventional.
"The unknown is the most friendly thing in the world," he said, as he constantly
sought out those things never seen or thought before.
Sommer was born in 1905 in Angri, Italy, a small town near Pompeii, to parents
of German and Swiss extraction. The family moved to Brazil when Frederick was 8.
Frederick spoke Italian, German, Portuguese, French and English. His very blood
He came to the United States in 1927 to study at Cornell University, but a
diagnosis of tuberculosis eventually drove him to Arizona, where he settled in
the bungalow just west of Prescott's downtown with his wife, Frances.
There, he made most of the art for which he is known. His house became a kind of
pilgrimage shrine for artists and admirers. Edward Weston visited in 1938 and
the two corresponded regularly. He was also friends with painter Max Ernst,
who briefly lived in Sedona in the 1940s. Yves Tanguy visited; Ansel Adams
corresponded. Although most of Arizona didn't know who he was, Sommer was making
a name in the world.
With images of such things as the pile of dead, skinned coyotes he found in the
desert and photographed with the precision of a Greek frieze, the name he made
was sometimes called surreal, but Sommer's aesthetic was anything but surreal.
For, unlike most surrealists, Sommer wasn't interested in the Freudian
unconscious and the irrational side of human intelligence; rather, he was
fascinated with the rational and its intersection with the chaos of creation.
What is most amazing for Sommer, is not the weirdness of the human mind but its
orderliness. We will make sense, no matter the cost. When the human mind is
faced with nonsense, it immediately searches for a way to force it to make
sense, at least metaphorically: Faced with a night sky of stars, we create
This is the key to Sommer's odd drawings and prints. He looks for the irrational
in nature or the productions of humans, and presents it to us with the full
expectation that we will make sense of it: rather like aleatory music, which he
"The complications of a work of art are not problems, but riches," he said.
Sommer has been the subject of books before. The 1986 Sommer: Images Words,
produced by Tucson's Center for Creative Photography, has been the standard
reference, although its reproductions were rather muddy, with smaller books,
such as 1988's The Mistress of This World Has No Name or 1992's All Children Are
Ambassadors as supplements.
But now, this new book supplants the previous ones. Lush, well written by
essayist Keith F. Davis and impeccably footnoted and researched, it also gives
us the best reproductions, nearly perfect, which provide the kind of visual
clarity Sommer's work requires.
"The important thing," Sommer said, "is quality of attention span, and to use it
for acceptance, not negation. Poetry is the quality of our acts."
Sommer may not have been popular, but he was a poet's poet.
reporter at (602) 444-8823.
Publishers Weekly, May 23,
The Art of
Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage
Davis, Keith (Author); Watson,
April (Author); Torosian, Michael (Contribution by)
ISBN: 0300107838; Yale University Press; Published 2005-04
Hardcover , $65.00 (252p); Individual Artist; Individual Photographer;
Collections, Catalogs, Exhibitions Ages Reviewed 2005-05-23
The art of Frederick Sommer isn't about beauty, technique or influence; it is,
Davis writes in his curatorial essay, about "understanding...everything." This
new survey of the former landscape architect's drawings, collage and photography
goes a long way toward illustrating Davis's claim. Sommer emerges here as an
insatiable synthesizer who saved, for example, a piece of molten metal he
discovered in the 1940s until he could collage it with the ideal background in
1966. The photograph produced from this collage, Davis explains, uncannily
evokes the composition of a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. To help readers
understand the impulses driving Sommer, Davis's essay lingers on the surrealist
technique of "skipreading" whereby one "reinterprets important texts by rapidly
scanning the page to form a new, poetic narrative from intuitively chosen words
and phrases." Sommer used this technique to produce wonderfully aphoristic
texts, some of which are interspersed, to great effect, throughout this catalog
of images. Davis sets out to demonstrate that the whole of Sommer's work and, by
extension, his life was a grand act of skipreading. It's an exciting, if not
heroic, take on Sommer's process, suggesting that the nearly two decades that
elapsed between finding the molten metal and its complimentary background, for
example, collectively formed the "important text" from which Sommer would
intuitively choose detritus to recombine into startling images. The book's
sequencing of images wholly succeeds in creating a powerful contemplative
experience, and the enticing arguments Davis offers in his introductory remarks
incite a hunger for fresh, detailed scholarship about each of Sommer's works.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All
"Booklist" review, May 15, 2005, p.1625
Davis, Keith F. and others, The Art of Frederick
Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage. May 2005. 240p. illus. index. Yale,
Frederick Sommer (1905-99), a once-celebrated yet also underrated and
misunderstood artist, is overdue for a revival, and this illuminating and
sumptuous book will be the catalyst. Raised in Rio de Janeiro, Sommer initially
worked with his landscape-designer father, but after he earned his M.A. at
Cornell University, he moved to Arizona and pursued many creative channels,
including photography, drawing, collage, and painting, all handsomely presented
here. Art historian Davis incisively interprets Sommer's innovative and complex
art, charting the evolution of his imagination and gift for experimentation, as
well as his friendships with Edward Weston, Charles Sheeler, Max Ernst, and
Aaron Siskind. Inspired by landscapes, the human figure, and music, Sommer was
also profoundly intrigued with the laws of nature, specifically death, decay,
and regeneration, which he explored in arresting photographs of animal carcasses
merging with the desert and other unusual biological subjects. Heretofore an
artist's artist, Sommer deserves greater appreciation for the "mysterious,
crystalline precision" of his evocative work, and his uncanny ability to discern
beauty in every manifestation and phase of life. [Review by]– Donna Seaman
People started to receive copies of the book around April 13, 2005. A few short
snippets from personal correspondence with the Sommer Foundation -
on the beautiful book! I ordered it for our library as soon as it was available.
Such a tome on Fred's work was long overdue." - Stuart Alexander
"I just received and reviewed the most beautiful book, Frederick Sommer:
Photography, Drawing, Collage. It is an outstanding representation of
Frederick Sommer's work."
- Allan Chasanoff
"The book arrived and I
am totally thrilled with it."
- Andrew Eskind
"Just want to thank you and
the Foundation for the Sommer book. It is magnificent, and the Foundation is to
be highly commended for such an important contribution to the knowledge and
understanding of Sommer's work."
- Beth Iskander
"A brief look leaves me breathless!" – Peter Bunnell
fantastic and beautiful and rich...A treasure. Congratulations. What at one time
seemed so familiar to me is once again fresh and complex." – Bill Wylie
gives a good feeling for many of Fred's interests. Keith obviously did a lot of
research. It is just great to see all those amazing images in once place, a bit
overwhelming at one sitting. I get the same rush of wonderment I had when I
first saw them so many years ago." – Jonathan Clark
beyond all expectations, even after reading about your own enthusiasm. There is
something extremely powerful and moving in being able to hold at last this
long-due beautiful, beautiful, beautiful tribute to Fred…The sequencing is
exquisite and extremely thought-provoking (I'm noticing things I hadn't seen
before in the new juxtapositions), the design enhancing, the printing really
does justice to Fred, the words are right. What an achievement." – Helene Perrin
see such keen sensitivity for the visual relationships from image to image for a
body of work. The sequencing adds much to the power of the images. I also
appreciate the many drawings, paintings and musical scores that I've never seen
before now ... that's
why I enjoy how you have sequenced Fred's work -- 1) it has intensified the
enjoyment of my looking at Fred's images and 2) it has allowed me a glimpse into
Fred's internalized visual vocabulary that, candidly, I was not previously
aware." - Mark Dyer
say I am very moved. It is a book I have wished for many years. But even more,
it is like holding an icon of Fred's spirit. You have done a very remarkable
job. And Davis' essay is most illuminating" – Charles Semonsky
real beauty and informative…" – Andy Grundberg
reproductions are breathtaking, especially the scores and drawings, which have a
vivacity far surpassing anything done before. And I've never seen many of these
and never so many. The totality was a revelation…I send you my heartiest
congratulations. You have exceeded what anyone could have possibly expected." –
"I love everything about the Sommer book and learned so much from Keith's
essay. You should feel so proud to have made such a beautiful and important
contribution to the literature on Sommer." - Jan Howard
opus on Fred and his work arrived, and I read it this past week with great
interest and pleasure…I thought the [Torosian interview] and April's
[chronology] was wonderful and gave me enhanced insight into Frances Fred, and
his work…The reproductions were on the mark!"
– Richard Menschel
the weekend with the book and feel like I have just had a good visit to Prescott
to see Fred and Francis. I am remembering things he said, things he showed me
(and how he showed them) and meals he cooked, accompanied by those tiny glasses
of beer…I am sure the book will have a similar impact on those who take the time
to absorb it."
– Peter MacGill
“The chronology & the essay are perfect counter-points.”
- Julian Cox
The local paper did an article recently,
Prescott Daily Courier. For those of you in the Prescott area, Barnes & Noble will have several copies
for local purchase, as may others stores that we are not currently aware of.