Befitting the surrealists’ love of revelatory slips of the tongue and the hand, this portrait of Max Ernst came together accidentally while Sommer was tidying his studio. To make it, the photographer superimposed two negatives so that Ernst’s skin took on the texture of a water-stained concrete wall. The result was a nod to the look of frottage, the drawing technique Ernst used to create such works as Conjugal Diamonds. The photograph also captures Ernst’s bird-like features and echoes the surrealist’s own depictions of himself as his alter-ego, a bird named Loplop. Indeed, according to Sommer’s recollections, Ernst saw this as the definitive portrait of himself.
Made in 1925, the drawing at left dates to the year when Max Ernst first invented frottage—a technique of rubbing graphite on paper laid over a textured surface. Ernst used the resulting “found” textures as the building blocks for his images, many of which depict fantastical creatures.