August Sander


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German photographer, born in Herdorf, Siegerland. He attempted to document German society with his project People of the Twentieth Century, which he embarked on in the early 1920s and published in a partial form as Face of our Time in 1929. When the Nazis came to power the unsold copies of the book were destroyed. Sander's project was totally at odds with Nazi ideology in that people were defined by their social identity rather than their race. The expressionist writer Alfred Döblin (1878–1957), introducing the photographs, invited the viewer to contemplate the effects of life, work, and social change on the countenance of Sander's subjects. Generally the subjects are identified by their profession or status rather than as individuals and the images emphasize this, sometimes with a degree of humour: the corpulent pastry cook has obviously enjoyed too much the product of his own labour; the Communist leader models his pose and appearance on Lenin. Sander divided his photographs into seven categories, namely The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, and The Last People. This final section dealt with society's discards and outcasts. Sander's brochure for the book provided a schema which proceeded ‘from the earthbound man to the highest peak of civilization, and downward according to the most subtle classifications to the idiot’. As Ian Jeffrey points out this scheme emphasizes artists and architects as the highest form of civilization. In the Nazi era, Sander worked on a less contentious project documenting the history of Cologne but continued to work clandestinely on portraits of the victims of political and racial persecution.

Further Reading

August Sander: Visage d'un époque (1990)

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.

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