Inspiration – Sommer


Frederick Sommer, Medallion, 1948

The strange photographs of Frederick Sommer struck me like a bell when I was shown them in 1983.

Sommer combined the democratic gaze of the camera with an attitude influenced by Surrealism. He would collect detritus found in Arizona rubbish dumps and arrange it in his studio in bizarre assemblages that were unprecedented in photography.

He liked the staring gaze of the large format camera, its ability to capture fine detail, but he focussed it on the lowest subject matter, rubbish that had baked in the desert sun.

He was friends with the Surrealist Max Ernst and you can see the affinity in the image above. Ordinary objects, the head of a doll and a piece of wood, are combined in a way that ‘multiplies’ the materials, giving them an eerie power. In Medallion, the camera stares at the doll and the doll stares back.

“He was interested in objects with histories, things imbued with the evidence of time and chance. (his still lifes) stand as emblems of memory. Sommer transforms these trivial relics into objects of talismanic power and mystery. – Keith F Davis.