Notes on Fredrick Sommer

Since I have never made a choice, I have never had the risk of having made a wrong choice. I go from one thing to another as it interests me. (2:33)

The exotic is easy to come by. (3:15)

The burden of learning is very great if you realize you’re learning it [art], but if you don’t realize you’re learning it it's amazing what can happen.(4:40)

Any time you take to repeat is just time taken from something else . . . Efficiency is the undoing of all possible pleasure. (7:50)

To have great respect for something does not mean that you want to go multiply what someone has laid as an egg somewhere beautifully there in a corner—a good hen does not lay the same egg over again. (9:35)

You don’t have to go and look for people to shock, there are people being naturally shocked by themselves everyday. All they have to do is just turn on the light and look at themselves and they are shocked. (16:15),

My comprehension of an interest in visual logic would have been much weaker than it is now [without photography] Photography is a just a tremendous teacher . . . You get what you wanted and then you get something that you didn’t know you were going to get with it. So you have to work to teach yourself to do what you want to do and this turns out to be an illusion because the only thing that’s really worthwhile is the thing you didn’t know. (26:19)

Around 20 minutes in, the discussion of scale and its importance contrasts nicely with Wagstaff’s contention that photography cannot “hold a wall” and is better appreciated through small scale objects—though it must be noted that Sommer is not known for large scale pieces.

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April 11, 2009 12:25 PM

The web that coheres the world


I watched Black White +Grey last night and was fascinated. It put a face on Sam Wagstaff that surprised me—I haven’t often considered collectors as thinkers. The root of aesthetics is pleasure, and Wagstaff is pleasure's poster-boy. The film makes it clear that he received great pleasure from photographs, and the short clip above defines that pleasure as private and non verbal—in exaggerated discomfort, he brands it onanistic.

The uncut interview was taken from a symposium at the Corcoran museum occasioned by the exhibition of selections from his collection in 1978, and the credits of the limited footage list a tantalizing line-up of commentators. Several sections of Wagstaff’s comments during this symposium fascinate me, not he least of which the profound separation between photography and A-R-T that is echoed and riffed upon by virtually every modern commentator after the photo secession. But I must save that for later; what interests me most for now is the relationship between photography and language.

Exploring the Sam Wagstaff papers online after the film unearthed a typescript titled “Pictorial Logic” from another speaker, photographer Fredrick Sommer that runs parallel to Wagstaff’s comments. It also deals with the relationship between words and pictures, deserving full transcription below the fold.

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April 11, 2009 10:41 AM