Gift of the photographer to Dr. Ernest Born, circa 1939
Estate of Ernest Born
Acquired by the present owners from the above
Other prints of this image:
Jonathan Williams, 'The Eyes of 3 Phantasts: Laughlin, Sommer, Bullock,' Aperture 9:3, 1961, p. 109
Nancy Hall-Duncan, Photographic Surrealism (Cleveland: The New Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1979), p. 51
John Weiss, ed., Venus, Jupiter & Mars: The Photographs of Frederick Sommer (Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1980, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 19 and exhibition plate list, fig. 1
Mark Haworth-Booth, 'A Goldmine in Arizona,' Creative Camera, December 1981, p. 329
'Elected Affinities, The Frederick Sommer Exhibition,' Image, Volume 33, Nos. 3-4, 1990, p. 47, Fig. 18
Keith F. Davis, The Art of Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawings, Collage (Prescott and New Haven, 2005), p. 79
Weston Naef, Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004), pl. 111
Aperture, No. 169, Winter 2002, p. 71
Frederick Sommer: The Box (Tucson and Munich, 1994), unpaginated
According to the Frederick Sommer Foundation, the photograph offered here is the earliest known print of Amputated Foot extant. The Foundation records 4 later prints of this image in institutional collections: the George Eastman House; the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard; Princeton University Art Museum; and the J. Paul Getty Museum; as well as 9 later prints in private collections.
In December of 1937, Sommer purchased an 8-by-10-inch format Century Universal View camera and a Zeiss Tassar lens which allowed him to photograph objects in extreme close-up and in great detail. The acquisition of this new equipment led to the collagistic still life studies that would become a significant component of his oeuvre. Some of the earliest work in this vein is the unprecedented series of images of chicken parts Sommer began in 1938.
Sommer's physician and friend in Prescott, Arizona, Dr. Ernest Born, who was also an amateur photographer, was aware of Sommer's interests during this period. In an interview with Michael Torosian in 1991, Sommer described how he acquired the subject of the present picture:
'I was friendly with a doctor . . . who was himself a photographer . . . I showed him some of these chicken pictures. He was delighted and said "When I have something really worth photographing, something unusual, I'll bring it around." One night there was a knock at the door and he brought in a human leg that he had amputated just a half hour before. Sometime a while after that he brought a placenta. Those were about the best things. They were very complex shapes, very handsome shapes' (quoted in Art of Frederick Sommer, p. 211).
The foot in the present photograph had belonged to a drunken hobo who had passed out riding the rails near Ashford, Arizona. Amputated Foot was published in a controversial issue of Aperture (Volume 9, Number 3) in 1961, in a portfolio of photographs edited and introduced by Jonathan Williams. Entitled 'The Eyes of 3 Phantasts,' the portfolio reproduced images by Clarence John Laughlin, Frederick Sommer, and Wynn Bullock. In his accompanying text, Williams wrote:
'And yet, the photographs are "horrible". . . . [Sommer] can ask a doctor friend what he's carrying in the bloody newspaper, insist on taking the amputated foot (from a hobo's accident on the Santa Fe tracks) back to the darkroom, and then produce a photograph . . . which is so accurate that it turns "the real" into a veritable jungle out of Hieronymous Bosch and Max Ernst. The use of the eye, seeing everything in the object, rejects the anticipated revulsion . . . I think Mr. Henry James has finally met his master -- an objectivity of an order that seems almost galactic' (p. 110).
The article, and Amputated Foot in particular, provoked strong letters to the editor of the magazine, which were published in subsequent issues. In the intervening years, this masterfully graphic image has lost none of its initial impact.
This photograph was acquired by Dr. Born directly from Sommer around the time of its making. It remained in Dr. Born's collection until his death in 1980. It was subsequently acquired from Dr. Born's widow by a friend of the doctor's, the young photographer Jon Gipe. Two Frederick Sommer photographs originally from the collection of Dr. Born, including the above-mentioned Placenta, were sold in these rooms on 11 October 2005 (Sale 8115, Lots 137 and 139).
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