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August Sander (1874 - 1964)

Gerd Sander, grandson of August Sander, and Keith Hartley, Chief Curator of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, discuss the photography of August Sander.

[Duration 6:59]


August Sander was one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the 20th century. For over 40 years Sander photographed individuals and groups of people in his native Germany, classifying them according to their occupations and positions in society. This lifelong attempt to document the German people resulted in the ambitious project entitled People of the 20th Century.

Over 170 modern prints of Sander’s pioneering work have been placed on long-term loan to ARTIST ROOMS. The prints were produced from the original negatives by August Sander’s grandson, Gerd Sander, who himself is a photographer and master printer.

Sander’s approach was highly methodical and based on an almost sociological analysis of Weimar Germany. He divided his portraits into groups and these in turn were made up of 49 sub-groups or portfolios. Throughout these Sander is at pains to give a truthful picture of his age, photographing all layers of German society from the farmers and country-people, through the workers, craftsmen, technicians and industrialists in the towns and cities, to people who are sick and disabled.

He photographed all his subjects in a similar fashion, predominantly against a neutral background, rather than their usual environment, in fairly strong light. They face the camera square on without any particular expression. The similarity of format allows us to compare and contrast the sitters and to see if any typical characteristics, and indeed differences, emerge. Yet at no time does one forget that these are individuals as well as representatives of social classes, trades and professions. Sander takes great care not to degrade his sitters to police mug shots or anthropological specimens – he always maintains a fine and humane balance.