August Sander (German, 1876-1964), Bohemian, 1922, Gelatin silver print, 21.9 x 17 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, © J. Paul Getty Trust, 84.XM.126.131.
August Sander (German, 1876-1964), Peasant woman, Westerwald, 1912, Gelatin silver print, 23 x 17.5 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, © J. Paul Getty Trust, 84.XM.126.169.
August Sander (German, 1876-1964), Blind Children, Düren, about 1930, Gelatin silver print, 23.5 x 16.8 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, © J. Paul Getty Trust, 84.XM.126.107.
J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
People of the Twentieth Century
May 6-September 14, 2008
A collective portrait of the German people during the first half of the 20th century will be on view in August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century. A pioneering photographer, August Sander (German, 1876-1964), worked throughout his life to create an “atlas” of his fellow citizens, arranging his portraits in groupings according to their classes and professions, as well as their association with the country or the city.
Sander’s project remained unfinished, despite his dedication to it over five decades. Organized into seven groupings (farmers, skilled tradesmen, women, classes and professions, artists, the city, and the so-called “last people” or the disabled and disenfranchised) and 45 portfolios, about 700 photographs have been identified as belonging to this “cultural work in photographic pictures.”
“Sander's images have an appeal that is timeless and universal,” says Virginia Heckert, associate curator for the Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs. “By striving for straightforward, objective depictions,
Sander hoped to tell the truth about his generation. By classifying his sitters by profession or social class rather than identifying them by name, he created portraits of types that remain relevant today, rather than individuals who are forgotten with the passing of history.”
Forty years after his death, Sander remains one of the most compelling — and enigmatic — photographers of the twentieth century. His long and prolific career spanned one of the most turbulent times in his country’s history. The Great War of 1914, the Weimar Republic, the reign of National Socialism, and the horrors of World War II left an indelible imprint on Sander and his work.
Following training as a commercial photographer throughout Germany and ten years with a photographic studio in Austria, Sander set up a portrait studio in Lindenthal, a suburb of Cologne, in 1910. There, he renewed his contacts with the rural families of the neighboring Westerwald region where he had grown up, while also concentrating on a growing clientele of skilled tradespeople and professionals.
The exhibition includes 125 portraits from the Getty Museum’s collection of over 1200 Sander photographs, second in size only to the August Sander Archiv in Cologne, which houses his estate. The Getty Museum’s strong holding enables a broad view of Sander’s work, with both signed exhibition prints and postcards that Sander produced in his daily commercial practice.
Among these are iconic photographs such as Young Farmers (1914), in which Sander focused his lens on three young farmers, creating a cinematographic quality as their heads turn to face the camera, and Tenor (1928), in which Leonardo Aramesco literally performs before Sander’s lens as seen by the exaggerated position of his hands, lively shock of hair and melodramatic gaze.
The exhibition was co-curated by Virginia Heckert, associate curator, Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs, and Judy Annear, senior curator of photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where the presentation was on view this winter.
August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century will be shown alongside the exhibition Bernd and Hilla Becher: Basic Forms. The Bechers, a husband and wife team, collaborated to photograph industrial architecture in Western Europe and the United States beginning in 1959. Their approach is directly indebted to August Sander’s categorization of basic social types by profession and class and many of the Bechers early images were taken in the Siegen district, where Sander’s subjects had lived or worked half a century before.
August Sander (born November 17, 1876 in Herdorf, Germany; died April 20, 1964 in Cologne) was a German portrait and documentary photographer.
Sander was the son of a carpenter working in the mining industry. While working at a local mine, Sander first learned about photography by assisting a photographer who was working for a mining company. With financial support from his uncle, he bought photographic equipment and set up his own darkroom.
He spent his military service (1897-1899) as a photographer's assistant, and the next years wandering across Germany. In 1901, he started working for a photo studio in Linz, eventually becoming a partner (1902), and then its sole proprietor (1904). He left Linz at the end of 1909 and set up a new studio in Cologne.
In the early 1920s, Sander joined the "Group of Progressive Artists" in Cologne and began plans to document contemporary society in a portrait series. In 1927, Sander and writer Ludwig Mathar traveled through Sardinia for three months, where he took around 500 photographs. However, a planned book detailing his travels was not completed.
Sander's first book Face of our Time was published in 1929. It contains a selection of 60 portraits from his series People of the 20th Century. Under the Nazi regime, his work and personal life were greatly constrained. His son Erich, who was a member of the left wing Socialist Workers' Party (SAP), was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in 1944, shortly before the end of his sentence. Sander's book Face of our Time was seized in 1936 and the photographic plates destroyed. Around 1942, during World War II, he left Cologne and moved to a rural area, allowing him to save most of his negatives. His studio was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid.
Sander's work includes landscape, nature, architecture, and street photography, but he is most well known for his portraits, as exemplified by his series People of the 20th Century. In this series, he aims to show a cross-section of society during the Weimar Republic. 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 (homeless persons, veterans, etc.). By 1945, Sander's archive included over 40,000 images.