Frederick Sommer (American/Italian, 1999)

Frederick Sommer (American, September 7, 1905–January 23, 1999) was an American photographer, painter, and sculptor considered by many as one of the true masters of this genre of art. Sommer was born in Angri, Italy, but raised in Brazil. He attended Cornell University and graduated with an MA in Landscape Architecture in 1927. Sommer met Elisabeth Watson at the institution, and they married in 1928. The couple did not have any children. In 1931, the two moved to Tuscon, AZ, before moving to Prescott, AZ, four years later. In 1939, Sommer became a naturalized American citizen.

In 1930, Sommer was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and, a year later, he began to experiment with photography. Initially, Sommer was mainly interested in working on paper with watercolors, but he later moved to pen and ink or brush. As Sommer was working on paper drawings, he was also starting to gain interest in photography as an art. In 1938, he got an 8×10 Century Universal Camera that allowed him to experiment with still-life photographs, horizonless landscapes, nudes, cliché-verre negatives, and jarred subjects, among others. Some of the artists Sommer has related with artistically include Max Ernst (German, 1891–1976), Richard Nickel (American, 1928–1972), and Edward Weston (American, 1886–1958). When the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ, was opened in 1975, Sommer, Harry Callahan (American, 1912?1999), and Aaron Siskind (American, 1903?1991) were some of the few artists whose works were archived at the center. Examples of Sommer's photographs include Arizona Landscape (1945), Flower and Frog (1947), and Smoke on Glass (1965).

From 1957 to 1958, Sommer substituted for Harry Callahan at IIT Institute of Design, and he also lectured briefly at Prescott College in the late 1960s. Sommer received many awards for his work, including the Friends of Photography Distinguished Career Award, Arizona State University's College of Fine Arts Award, and Arizona Governor's Arts Award. Like other artists of his time, Sommer held a number of exhibitions in different places. His solo exhibitions were held in places like Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA (1946) and Light Gallery, New York, NY (1972). Examples of Sommer's group exhibitions include Drawings, Paintings and Photographs, at the Institute of Design, Chicago, IL, (1957) and Museum of Photography, Tokyo, Japan (1995). Sommer died in Prescott, AZ.


MA, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., Landscape Architecture
Guggenheim Fellowship
Honorary PhD from the University of Arizona
Friends of Photography Distinguished Career Award
Arizona State University’s College of Fine Arts Award
Artist of the Year by the University of Bridgeport, Conn.
Arizona Governor’s Arts Award



The Art of Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage, Keith Davis (published by FFSF and distributed by Yale University Press, 2005)
Frederick Sommer: Selected Texts and Bibliography,Sheryl Conkelton (Oxford: Clio Press, 1995)
Words/Images, Frederick Sommer (Center of Creative Photography, University of Arizona, 1984)
Frederick Sommer at Seventy-Five,A Retrospective, Constance W. Glenn and Jane K. Bledsoe, Introduction by Leland Rice (Long Beach: The Art Museum and Galleries, CSU, 1980)
Venus, Jupiter and Mars: The Photographs of Frederick Sommer, John Weiss, Barbara Wendel, Charles Metzger and Ed Mitchell (Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1980)
Frederick Sommer, Gerald Nordland (Philadelphia: Philadelphia College of Art, 1968)
“Emmet Gowin on Frederick Sommer” contained within the Books on Photography III(1999) sales catalog by Roth Horowitz Booksellers
“Death Imagery in the Work of Four Twentieth-Century Artists: Kathe Kollwitz, Mauricio Lasansky, Frederick Sommer and Jerome Liebling,” by Susan Von Glahn, Master of Fine Arts thesis paper (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1985)
“Frederick Sommer: Photographic and Philosophical Development,” by Mary Ann Fittipaldi, Master of Arts thesis paper (East Texas State University, 1981)
Creative Camera No. 204, Articles by Mark Haworth-Booth and Dawn Ades
Philadelphia Photo Review, Vol. 5 No.1 Spring/Summer 1980, Article by Stephen Perloff
Linguistic & Pictorial Logic of General Aesthetics: A Discussion of the Ornamental Sense of Ideas (A transcription of the Princeton seminars, taught by Frederick Sommer