August Sander – Face of Our Time

Copyright of the Estate of August Sander, 2003 courtesy Schirmer Mosel Verlag

In 1929 August Sander (1876 – 1964), a German portrait photographer published his first book Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time) by Kurt Wolff Verlag with an essay by the German writer Alfred Doblin. This famous book was re-issued by Schirmer Mosel Verlag in their Schirmer Art Books series which is a great little photobook about this well-known photographer.

The relatively compact size (7-1/2” x 5-3/4”) of this softcover book makes it a wonderful little reference photobook on Sander’s larger body of work. Although containing only 60 duotones it contains some of Sander’s trademark photographs of the German people he embarked on documenting. The rarity of the original book was increased in the late 1930’s when the Nazi regime seized his books and photographic plates and destroyed them.

Sander had a profitable portrait studio in Germany and after he joined “Group of Progressive Artists” in Cologne (Kohn) in the early 1920’s he embarked on documenting his contemporary society. What made a difference in his work was to photograph this project outside the confines of his studio and to go to the people and their environment. This was usually accomplished by riding his bike while lugging his plate camera. Sander’s series later evolved to his larger project People of the 20th Century (Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts) which he eventually expanded to an archive of over 40,000 photographs.

In this series he was attempting to illustrate a cross-section of  German society although he had intended to categorize them by certain social types. Stating that “[w]e know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled.”

The series is divided into seven sections: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, and The Last People.

In his naturalist style he has captured ordinary people leading their ordinary lives. So although his concept and intent was flawed he nevertheless captured some wonderful portraits of the people of his time.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale


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