A Facebook friend request led me into my journals from 33 years ago, to what I wrote down during what seems to have been the pivotal photographic workshop of my life. Charlie Weatherby's notes on the same workshop are on the Frederick Sommer site, here.Ordinarily, I seal these journals far from my prying eyes, as I hate to see what a mess I was when I was 20. It seems I mostly wrote about loneliness and sexual frustration, and whoever I had a crush on at the moment. However, when Frederick Sommer came to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts to teach a workshop, I took notes. It's the only time during my 8 months there that I did so. Something in my dense, self-involved 20 year old brain knew this was worth my full attention.
Not that I understood very much at the time. I've written about him before, here and here, but Frederick Sommer is one of the more difficult 20th century artists to understand. A good overview is available on Compass Rose. His rigorous, logical aesthetic is highly distilled drink, and I still don't understand most of what he was about. But some of my notes from 1976 give a hint to what was making an impression on me at the time. I wouldn't vow that these are exact quotes; it's how I made sense of it at the time.
“Aesthetics is the validation of what we perceive.”
On the logic of words and imagery: “there are things that can only be said, and things that can only be shown.”
“Structural order is stronger than logic. There is more than can be talked about.”
“The structure of images has a natural complexity. There is no insignificant thing in a photograph. It has to be there. Honor that order. Accept what one sees.”
“Photography deals with a totality of conditions. We read visual pictures in totality.”
“Buddhism is an aesthetic system—don't kill. To kill is to put an end to a perceptive system.”
“A work that functions: logical position continues, but temporal meaning changes.”
“A print is adequate when the weights function.”
“Manipulation is for the sake of cohesion, for linkages and order.”
“Nature is a system with an enormous sense of relatedness and cohesion.”
“Religious logic, metaphysics, philosophy are thinking about how our thoughts operate. They are complementary to display. “
“Display is to literally touch the experience. To feel and realize the experience directly.”
“The photograph is the sense of display, the interrelationships of things as seen, and how the conjunction of these things exist as a constellation.”
“The photograph is the most non-metaphysical way of display. It is immediate.”
“There is the occupier and there is the structure of an image. The occupier is the subject matter, the content. The structure must be stable regardless of the occupier. The system collapses when there is too much preference for what you photograph. You must see what you have, not what you have done.”
“When we have done something interesting, we are just the bystander. We should condition ourselves so that we can truly be the bystander when we are being. Nothing that is witnessed will be forgotten by your system. Anything that touches your attention span is a catalyst.”
More than half a lifetime later, I'm still working it out.