Frederick Sommer is haunting me again. This is a good thing. His subtle influence on me and my work has taken 30 years to fully manifest itself. I think I’m just now approaching an age where I can start to understand him.
I just received an email from Charles Weatherby, who was in the same Frederick Sommer workshop that I was in, at Sun Valley, Idaho in June 1976. That would be thirty years ago this month. He was 33 at the time; I was 20. He claims that much of what Sommer said went over his head but, unlike me, he had the wherewithal to take notes. And now he’s sent me a collection of them.
Some gems from this treasure trove:
"Make an environment for yourself. Enjoy sleep, but don’t wake up to trivia. Work to eliminate trivia."
"Forget thinking about what you see. Take pictures and then accept the consequences of what you did take."
"Most photos fail—it’s a shock when they work out."
"You can get knowledge from someone else without imitating them. It’s impossible to make private art or literature. The degree to which a person finds a new cohesion with a personal touch—he will be interesting to others."
"Study the arts and their history for the purpose of broadening your base. You can’t go any farther forward than you can go backward."
And my favorite:
"Subject matter is harmless, but it can be charming to the point of distraction from other elements."
He also tracked down the workshop attendees, which is how he found me. There were 15 of us. Tina Barney was in the class, as was Peter de Lory (he was director of the Photography Department at Sun Valley Arts Center). It was great to see what happened to Julie Bruck, on whom I had an unrequited crush at the time. She is now a poet in San Francisco. Most everyone else is teaching art or photography somewhere. Charles is a retired social worker living in Marin County, California.