Frederick Sommer

Painting by Frederick Sommer

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Painting by Frederick Sommer

Frederick Sommer (1905–1999), an American surrealist artist and photographer, left an indelible mark on the art world. Born in Italy, Sommer’s early exposure to European art and culture influenced his unique vision. Known for his multidisciplinary approach, Sommer explored photography, drawing, and collage. His work often delved into the surreal and the abstract, challenging traditional artistic boundaries.

Painting by Frederick Sommer
Painting by Frederick Sommer

Sommer’s photographic compositions were characterized by a meticulous attention to form, light, and texture. He experimented with unconventional subject matter, creating visual poetry from seemingly disparate elements. His images, whether of natural landscapes or carefully arranged objects, conveyed a sense of mystery and contemplation.

Painting by Frederick Sommer
Painting by Frederick Sommer

In addition to his photography, Sommer was an accomplished collagist and draftsman. His drawings exhibited a masterful use of line and a fascination with the interplay of shapes. The surreal quality of his compositions reflected his deep engagement with the subconscious and the symbolic.

Painting by Frederick Sommer
Painting by Frederick Sommer

Sommer’s artistic legacy extended beyond his creations to his influence as a teacher. He taught at various institutions, inspiring generations of artists with his unconventional approach to art and his emphasis on experimentation. His contributions to the field were acknowledged with retrospectives and exhibitions, cementing his place in the annals of 20th-century art.

Frederick Sommer’s oeuvre remains a testament to artistic innovation and a celebration of the limitless possibilities of creative expression. His ability to transcend traditional artistic boundaries and evoke thought and emotion through his work ensures his lasting impact on the world of visual arts.

Frederick Sommer: A Visionary Photographer of the American Southwest

Frederick Sommer (1905-1999) was an American photographer who is best known for his surreal and enigmatic images of the American Southwest. Born in Angri, Italy, to German-speaking parents, Sommer spent his early years in Brazil before moving to the United States in 1931. He settled in Prescott, Arizona, in 1935, where he would live and work for the rest of his life.

Sommer’s photographs are characterized by their stark contrasts, deep shadows, and unexpected juxtapositions. He often photographed the desert landscape, but he also turned his lens to everyday objects, people, and animals, finding beauty and strangeness in the ordinary. His images are often infused with a sense of mystery and ambiguity, leaving viewers to ponder their meaning and significance.

Sommer was a pioneer in the use of double exposures and solarization, techniques that he used to create his unique and otherworldly images. He was also a skilled printer, and he took great care in producing his own prints, ensuring that they were of the highest quality.

Sommer’s work was not widely recognized during his lifetime, but he has since been rediscovered and is now considered one of the most important American photographers of the 20th century. His photographs are held in the collections of major museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Major Themes in Frederick Sommer’s Photography

  • The American Southwest: Sommer’s photographs of the desert landscape are among his most iconic works. He captured the stark beauty and harshness of the desert, and his images often convey a sense of isolation and alienation.

  • Everyday Objects and Surrealism: Sommer was fascinated by the ordinary objects that surrounded him, and he found a way to transform them into something strange and otherworldly through his use of light, shadow, and perspective.

  • The Human Form: Sommer’s photographs of people are often characterized by their emotional intensity and psychological depth. He captured the human condition in all its complexity, from moments of joy and tenderness to moments of despair and loneliness.


Frederick Sommer’s photographs are a testament to his unique vision and his mastery of the photographic medium. His work continues to inspire and challenge photographers and art lovers alike.

Notable Works by Frederick Sommer

  • Medallion (1948)
  • Arizona Landscape (1951)
  • Tucson Trolley Car (1948)
  • Double Exposure (1948)
  • Untitled (1955)