"How does one get from art to photography and logic? The beginning of my experience is architecture, landscape architecture, and
city planning."

Frederick Sommer
Opening lines to "The Two Logics"
Mills College Oakland, 1983


Frederick Sommer 1905-1999 – Chronological Summary

Preface – There is always a dilemma in editing the details that comprise an individual’s life. Do you reduce it to the seemingly important events of a given year or try to give it the flavor of the people and the times? We have chosen to give a summary here and provide separate lists of talks and exhibitions.

The larger story, with influences, quotes and details can be found in the chronology by April Watson now published in
The Art of Frederick Sommer (Yale University Press, 2005).

Early Life: 1905-1929
1905 Frederick Sommer (baptized Fritz Carlos Sommer) is born on September 7 in Angri, Italy, a small town near Pompeii. 1913 His family moves to Brazil. 1921 Through his father’s contacts, Frederick apprentices during the summer at Escritório Técnico Heitor de Mello, the office of architects Archimedes Memória and Francisco Cuchet, one of Rio’s finest architectural firms. 1922 Working with his father, Frederick begins taking private landscaping commissions. 1923 Frederick becomes increasingly more interested in avant-garde and modernist theories. 1924 Meets William Gratwick, Sr., an American businessman and amateur horticulturist, who encourages Frederick to visit the United States. 1925 Sommer travels to the United States, meets architect Edward Gorton Davis, Chairman of Landscape Architecture Department at Cornell University and becomes his assistant. 1926 Sommer officially enrolls as a graduate student at Cornell University. Sommer meets his future wife Frances Elisabeth Watson. 1927 Sommer receives a Master of Arts degree in Landscape Architecture. Sommer returns to Rio by himself to form a business partnership with his father. 1928 Sommer works on various projects as a consultant in and around Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, designing parks for Curitiba, in the State of Paraná, as well as Salvador, in the State of Bahia. Returns to the United States and marries Frances on August 23, after which the couple move to Rio de Janeiro. 1929 Sommer helps organize the IV Pan-American Congress of Architects in Rio as member of Thesis Commission.

Time of Changes: 1930-1937
1930 On May 23, Sommer suffers a hemorrhage, is diagnosed with tuberculosis, and in two-weeks departs Rio for a rest cure in Arosa, Switzerland. 1931 He first experiments with photography for its own sake. The Sommers leave Arosa in April. Frances returns to the United States and Frederick follows a few months later. The Sommers arrive in Tucson, Arizona during November. 1932 Frederick pursues painting and drawing while Frances takes various odd jobs. They meet and become friends with Lucy Drake Marlow, Faurest and Winnie Davis, and Donald and Madge McKenzie. 1933 Sommer visits the World’s Fair in Chicago. Frederick has his first one-man exhibition (watercolors) in the United States at the Increase Robinson Gallery. There he sees the limited edition book, The Art of Edward Weston, which had been published by Merle Armitage the previous year. 1934 The Sommers move to Los Angeles for the fall semester, where Frances, hired to be a social worker by the State of Arizona, is training at the University of Southern California. In a music library, Frederick sees original musical scores drawn by the composers. Sommer shows Merle Armitage a selection of small drawings and paintings. 1935 In February Frances begins her job with the state of Arizona and the couple settles in Prescott. Frederick travels to New York to meet Alfred Stieglitz. 1936 In Prescott Frederick forms friendships with Charles Dockum and Charles Tracy. In Los Angeles he meets Edward Weston, Charis Wilson and Howard Putzel through Merle Armitage. 1937 Solo exhibition of watercolors, drawings and collages at Howard Putzel’s gallery.

The 8x10 Work Begins: 1938-1945
1938 Sommer having acquired an 8x10 inch Century Universal view-camera starts making photographs of still life arrangements, of chicken heads and entrails, and details in nature. Later purchases a longer focal length lens for the 8x10 inch camera allowing him to photograph distant landscapes. In September they move into 913 Canyon Drive, which would be their home for the rest of their lives. 1939 Sommer becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States on November 18. 1940 The Sommers travel to New York. 1941 Faurest Davis first plays Sommer’s musical score drawings. The Sommers meet Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Peggy Guggenheim in California. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, selects Sommer’s Petrified Forest National Monument, AZ, 1941 as one of 100 prize-winning photographs included in the museum’s exhibition Image of Freedom. 1942 Frederick photographs the Grand Canyon, which he titles, “Colorado River Landscapes.” 1943 Max Ernst, now with Dorothea Tanning, visits the Sommers in Prescott. 1944 Dr. Lloyd Owen meets Frederick through mutual friends Hilliard and Mary Brooke in Prescott, Sommer has images published in VVV, visits New York and meets William Carlos Williams at Charles and Musya Sheeler’s home in Irvington. 1945 Photographs throughout Arizona with trips into Death Valley and Utah.

The Found Object as Photograph Evolves: 1946-1949
1946 Frederick Sommer continues his interest in still life imagery by photographing arrangements of found objects and backgrounds. Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, move to Sedona, Arizona, and on weekends visit with the Sommers. Frederick builds a studio addition onto his home. Sommer’s first one-person exhibition of photographs is held at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California. The painter Lew Davis provides Charles Egan with an introduction to Sommer. Through Man Ray, Sommer meets James Fitzsimmons, who insists Steichen should see Sommer’s current photographs. 1949 In New York, Charles Egan holds an exhibition Drawings and Photographs by Frederick Sommer. Aaron Siskind visits Sommer at Egan’s suggestion and stays in Prescott for three months. Max Ernst introduces Sommer’s work to Dr. Dieter Wyss, who includes Sommer in his surrealist catalogue, Der Surrealismus (1950). Steichen exhibits sixteen of Sommer’s prints in the four-person exhibition Realism in Photography at MOMA and the museum purchases ten photographs for their collection.

Period of Wider Exposure: 1950-1956
1950 Sommer’s photographs are included in the exhibition, Photography at Mid-Century, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, curated by Ebria Feinblatt. Max Ernst shows Sommer’s work to Christian Zervos, editor of the journal Cahiers d’art. 1951 Ansel Adams, teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (later the San Francisco Art Institute) shows a selection of Sommer’s prints to his students and to fellow teacher Minor White. At Steichen’s suggestion, the photographer Ferenc Berko invites Sommer to participate in the first Photo Conference at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, Colorado: “The Camera and Reality: A Photographic Seminar.” Sommer meets the painter Emerson Woelffer. 1952 Thirty-eight of Sommer’s photographs are shown in the exhibition, Diogenes with a Camera I, MOMA, New York. Sommer begins having success using a Leica rangefinder (35mm) he acquired in 1951. Richard Landis, a student at Arizona State College, meets Sommer, accompanied by Phillips Sanderson and Philip C. Curtis. Exhibits twenty photographs with Helen Levitt in Two Ways in Photography, at the Institute of Design, IIT, Chicago. 1953 Gerald Nordland meets Sommer in Prescott. 1955 Exhibition of Sommer’s photographs and drawings, organized by Dieter Weiss, at Zimmergalerie Franck in Frankfurt, Germany. 1956 Through Donald McKenzie, Sommer’s photographs are included in an exhibition at the German-American Library (Badische Volkszeitung) in Karlsruhe, Germany. Sommer builds another addition, initially designed to be a painting studio, onto his residence at 913 Canyon Drive. Aperture publishes a selection of Sommer’s photographs with accompanying critical commentary (Aperture 4:3 1956)

Drawing as the first move to making a photograph
and the Beginning of Synthetic Negatives: 1957-1965

1957 Sommer begins making synthetic or camera-less negatives. The first synthetic negatives are paint on cellophane (1957), followed by smoke on cellophane (1961) and smoke on glass (1962). Writer and publisher Jonathan Williams visits Sommer in Prescott and introduces Sommer’s work to photographer Wynn Bullock. Sommer takes a position as sabbatical replacement for Harry Callahan at the Institute of Design, 1957-58. He influences students Joseph Sterling, Joe Jachna, Charles Swedlund and Ray Metzker. Meets and becomes friends with Richard Nickel, an architectural historian/photographer and former student at the ID (MA graduate in 1957). Sommer’s work is the subject of a solo exhibition, Drawings, Paintings and Photographs, at the Institute of Design, IIT, Chicago. 1958 Sommer meets Edwin H. Land, inventor of the Polaroid process. 1959 Henry Holmes Smith includes Sommer’s photographs in an exhibition at Indiana University, Bloomington, Photographer’s Choice. 1960 Steichen includes Sommer’s photographs in the exhibition The Sense of Abstraction in Contemporary Photography, MOMA. Sommer travels in Europe for three months. 1961 Sommer begins to work with a model, Lee Nevin, in his Prescott studio. Jonathan Williams includes Sommer’s work, with that of Clarence John Laughlin and Wynn Bullock, in The Eyes of Three Phantasts, Aperture 9:3 (1961). Participates in a Tamarind printmaking workshop. 1962 The first cut-paper photographs are made. 1963 Aperture publishes the Sommer monograph issue (Vol. 10, No. 4, 1962 – distributed Feb. 1963). Sommer lectures and exhibits in Chicago, and is interviewed by Studs Terkel. 1964 David Kent meets Sommer. 1965 Frederick Sommer: An Exhibition of Photographs, is organized by Gerald Nordland for the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C., travels to the Pasadena Art Museum, California with a variation reassembled and shown at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.

An Era of Teaching and Talks: 1966-1979
Between 1966 and 1979 Frederick Sommer’s work is the primary subject of, or included in, over 50 exhibits, many of which travel.

1966 Sommer becomes Coordinator of Fine Arts Studies at Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona; a position he retains through 1971. Here Sommer meets students Stephen Aldrich and Walton Mendelson, photographer/architect Jay Dusard and John Stewart, Ph.D. (a retired emeritus physicist from Princeton University). 1967 Sommer gives a Photo Education Society lecture at Rhode Island School of Design, where he meets photographer Emmet Gowin. 1968 The first public performance of Sommer’s musical scores, by Stephen Aldrich on piano and Walton Mendelson on flute, at Prescott College. Sommer’s largest solo exhibition to date, Frederick Sommer, opens at the organizing venue, the Philadelphia College of Art, curated by Gerald Nordland and travels. 1969 The Sommers travel to Japan and upon returning meet Sonny Dumas, a prospective student at Prescott College. 1970 Sommer gives a talk at the Art Institute of Chicago, published in Aperture 16:2 (1972). 1971 Sommer’s photographs are included in the inaugural exhibition of Light Gallery, New York. Sommer is one of the gallery’s original thirteen artists. 1972 Sommer takes part in an informal retreat with Minor White, Peter Bunnell, Allan Dutton, Jonathan Green, Robert Heinecken, Carl Chiarenza, Jerome Liebling, Jerry Uelsmann and Jack Welpott in Sippewisset, on Cape Cod. Sommer conducts a seven-day workshop at Apeiron, in Millerton, New York, where he meets Alex Jamison (Sommer’s first full-time assistant, 1973-78). Over sixty of Sommer’s photographs are shown in a one-person exhibition at the Light Gallery, New York. Self-publishes, with assistance from William Parker, The Poetic Logic of Art and Aesthetics, which he has written in collaboration with Stephen Aldrich. 1973 Substitutes for Harry Callahan, spring semester at Rhode Island School of Design. 1974 He teaches a workshop organized by the Friends of Photography with Wynn Bullock, Linda Connor, Imogen Cunningham and Clarence John Laughlin in Yosemite Valley. Indiana University Art Museum acquires 20 Sommer photographs. Sommer is awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and travels to Scotland, Italy, Morocco, and Switzerland. 1975 Sommer’s archive is one of the initial five that establishes the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson. 1976 Sommer is interviewed by James McQuaid, in Prescott, for the Oral History Project at George Eastman House, Rochester (December 2-6). 1977 The Sommers travel to New Zealand for three months. 1978 Sommer’s photograph, Taylor, Arizona, 1945, is included in a rotating exhibit of American artists at Blair House, the Vice President’s residence in Washington, D.C. Thomas Carabasi, recent graduate of Princeton University, arrives to become Sommer’s assistant on August 23, the Sommer’s 50th wedding anniversary. 1979 Sommer is awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona and gives a series of talks. Sommer is appointed Visiting Senior Fellow of the Council of the Humanities and Old Dominion Fellow, Visual Arts, at Princeton University and conducts a 12-week seminar, Linguistic and Pictorial Logic of General Aesthetics: A Discussion of the Ornamental Sense of Ideas.

National Recognition: 1980-1988
In the period between 1980 and 1989 Frederick Sommer was the primary subject or included in over 19 exhibitions.

1980 Frederick Sommer at Seventy-Five, A Retrospective, opens at the Art Museum and Galleries, California State University, Long Beach. Organized and curated by Leland Rice, it is a major solo exhibition with an accompanying 72-page catalogue edited by director Constance W. Glenn and Jane K. Bledsoe. The exhibition travels through 1981. John Weiss, an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Delaware, Wilmington, curates another significant Sommer exhibition for the Delaware Art Museum, Venus, Jupiter and Mars: Photographs of Frederick Sommer. This exhibit of over one hundred photographs has an accompanying 70-page catalogue with a separate exhibition checklist. David T. Hanson, a graduate of Stanford University, becomes Sommer’s assistant for one year. 1981 Grace Booth (Mercer), a graduate of Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, becomes Sommer’s assistant for two years. Frederick Sommer: Photographs, Drawings and Musical Scores is on view at the Serpentine Gallery, London. It marks the first extensive showing of Sommer’s work in Britain. 1982 Sommer is awarded the Third Annual ‘Distinguished Career in Photography’ by the Friends of Photography, Carmel, California. 1983 Sommer lectures at Mills College, Oakland, California, on The Two Logics. Nickki Hill, a graduate of University of Utah, begins working as Sommer’s assistant. The Sommers, travel for two months in Portugal. Sommer is a visiting artist at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, with exhibition and lecture. 1984 Luiz Carlos Felizardo, a Brazilian photographer and current Fulbright recipient, arrives to study with Sommer. The Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona publishes Sommer Words/Sommer Images, a two volume set featuring 79 illustrations and twelve reproduced texts. 1985 A solo exhibition, Frederick Sommer: A Selection of Photographs and Drawings, is presented at the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Accompanied by Thomas Carabasi, Sommer gives two talks in conjunction with the show and the University awards him ‘Artist of 1985.’ Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, gives Sommer their ‘College of Fine Arts Achievement Award for Art.’ Naomi Lyons, a graduate of Hollins College, having met Sommer at Princeton University in 1983, becomes his assistant. 1986 A solo exhibition of Sommer’s Photographs and Drawings is presented at Pace/MacGill gallery, New York. 1987 Sommer is the recipient of Arizona Governor’s Arts Award for ‘Artist of the Year.’ 1988 A retrospective exhibition of Sommer’s work, Where Images Come From, including photographs and drawings, Denver Art Museum, is curated by E. M. Strauss. The show with an accompanying catalog, The Mistress of This World Has No Name, travels through 1989.

Late Work and Life: 1989-1999
In this period of time Frederick Sommer was the primary subject of, or included in over 27 exhibitions.

1989 With the assistance of Stephen Aldrich, Sommer pursues collage for its own sake, rather than as an arrangement to be photographed. 1990 During a Prescott College reunion, Mendelson and Aldrich again publicly perform Sommer’s scores. Elective Affinities, an exhibition at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, is the first major showing of Sommer’s collages and related photographs. 1991 Sommer gives talks at Bard College, Yale University and Princeton University. 1992 Frederick Sommer: Collages, a solo exhibition at Turner/Krull Gallery, Los Angeles, California. Sommer no longer travels out of state after attending this opening. 1993 The Sommers establish the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation, a non-profit charitable trust, as part of settling their affairs. 1994 The J. Paul Getty Museum makes a major acquisition from Sommer, including 109 photographs, objects and backgrounds from assemblage photographs, and a collection of drawings and collages. 1995 Sommer makes a gift of 55 works to The National Gallery, Washington, D.C. The collection includes photography, drawing and collage. Sommer builds a guesthouse next door to accommodate his many visitors. Clio Press issues the seventh volume in their World Photographers Reference Series, Frederick Sommer, Selected Texts and Bibliography, edited by Sheryl Conkelton. 1998 Sommer, physically weakened by age, makes his final artistic works. 1999 Frederick Sommer dies, at the age of 93, on Saturday afternoon, January 23, in his home. Frances Sommer, age 94, dies at home on Saturday, April 10.