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Book Bag: August Sander Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

14 January 2019

In her last weekly column for The Guardian, Italian novelist Elena Ferrante admits, "I hate having my photo taken." Well, everyone does. Although you could never tell by the work of German photographer August Sander.

Sander, who was born in Herdorf, Germany, in 1876 and died in Cologne in 1964, was introduced to photography during his military service. He subsequently found work in a photo studio in Linz, Austria, becoming a partner and eventually sole owner.

After moving to Cologne in 1910, he began a series of portraits that consumed him for the rest of his life. By 1845, he had an archvie of over 40,000 negatives.

When we think of photographic portraits today, we think of the photographer coaxing the soul of their subject to reveal itself through their eyes or perhaps in some telling location or some dramatic pose that reveals the personality of the sitter.

But Sander's series People of the 20th Century was an attempt to show types of people living in the Weimar Republic before World War II. Conseuqently he divided the work into seven sections: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, and The Last People.

And the captions aren't names, usually, but professions. Locksmith, Student, Country band, etc. Only celebrities are identified by name.

Susanne Lange, who introduces Sander in this volume, and the August Sander Archive published a seven volume collection of his work in 2002. That included a mere 650 of the photographer's images.

This Photofile title August Sander doesn't pretend to present all of his work but the 60 or so images are well chosen, representative of his achievement.

The crystal clear images have been handsomely reproduced as warm duotones with captions on the facing page. You won't mind looking at them over and over again.

August Sander. Working Class Children (1932).

With its Photofile series, Thames & Hudson has undertaken one of those monumental cultural missions much like the Library of America and Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Each volume in the series contains 60 full-page reproductions, a critical introduction and full biography of a seminal photographer. And at around $15, they are each affordable, too.

The series includes quite a number of volumes already. Those include titles devoted to Anders Petersen, Andre Kértész, August Sander, Berenice Abbott, Bill Brandt, Brassaï, Bruce Gilden, Don McCullin, Duane Michals, Edward Steichen, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Haas, Found Photography, Gordon Parks (Photofile), Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Joel-Peter Witkin, Josef Koudelka, Lewis Carroll, Magnum Photos, Man Ray, Marc Riboud, Paolo Roversi, Peter Beard, Richard Kalvar, Robert Capa, Sarah Moon, Saul Leiter, Sebastião Salgado, Surrealist Photography and Walker Evans.

August Sander is the first in the series we've had the please to look through. The binding is a little stiff so the book opens reluctantly but wide enough that you can enjoy these intimate images.

Sander may have seen his subjects as types but they are inevitably individuals staring back at us from the last century. We know a little of what happened to them.

Perhaps we are imagining it, but in Sander's images they seem to know what will become of us as well.

August Sander by Intro by Susanne Lange, published by Thames & Hudson, 144 pages, $$15.95 (or $$15.15 at or $10.97 at Target).

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