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  August Sander, Photographer

August Sander was born in Herdorf, Germany on November 17, 1876, at a time when the medium of photography was increasing its influence and efficiency. Bulky glass-plate cameras were being supplanted by sleek, easy-to-use alternatives. Mr. Sander, who hailed from a working class family, was working in a mine where he learned about photography from a visiting photographer while in his teens. He supplemented this experience with a textbook and a local physician who explained its chemistry processes. However, a career in photography would have to wait until the 20-year-old's compulsory military service was completed. He served his apprenticeship in the village of Trier before continuing his studies at Dresden's Academy of Art around 1898.

By 1901, Mr. Sander was living in Linz, Austria, where he worked as chief operator of a local portrait gallery. The next year, he married Anna Seitenmacher. At first, he was the quintessential Pictorialist, with portraits that resembled paintings featuring hand-painted backdrops, props, manipulated lighting, and arduous retouching. A polio epidemic in 1909 forced the family to move from Linz to Cologne, where Mr. Sander briefly worked for a large portrait studio. However, within a year, opened a solo gallery in the neighboring district of Lindenthal. Now on his own, he felt free to relinquish the constraints of Pictorialism. But rather than follow the new and more abstract path of his contemporaries, Mr. Sander went back to basics, which he described in an advertisement as, "simple, natural portraits that show the subjects in an environment corresponding to their own individuality." This involved purchasing equipment that would travel well, so he could create the same high-quality portraiture in the sitter's home that could be achieved in a studio. In their own familiar surroundings, the sitters were more relaxed and natural. Mr. Sander would take either half- or full-length photographs of them in their normal attire and displayed props they would ordinarily use in their vocations.

By 1920, he was using glossy paper, which added a further polish to his field portraits. Around this time, Mr. Sander embarked on a professional project of social significance, where he began photographing individuals that were grouped according to their vocation and position on the social hierarchy, with names such as "The Farmer," "The Skilled Tradesman," and "The Woman." The result was a massive collection of 45 portfolios, which were published in 1929 as Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time). Mr. Sander further distinguished himself by declaring that documentary photography and the realism it projected were of far greater social importance than the grandiose Expressionist images that had become popular in postwar Germany. He refused to manipulate his images with retouching, believing instead that, "In photography, there are no unexplained shadows." The world should be photographed as it is instead of in the photographer’s idealized vision of what it should be.

After Adolf Hitler's Nazi party ascended to power in 1933, all of Mr. Sander's plates were confiscated because his realism conflicted with their Aryan propaganda. For the next several years, he and his family were harassed to the point where they were forced to relocate to Kuchhausen, leaving all of his work behind to be destroyed by looters after World War II. Nevertheless, he continued to work until the early 1960s, as new generations were rediscovering and exhibiting his earlier portraits. Eighty-eight-year-old August Sander died of a stroke in Cologne, Germany on April 20, 1964. His influence is clearly evident in the works of Walker Evans and Diane Arbus. The SK Cultural Foundation in Cologne obtained Mr. Sander's photographic archive in 1992.

2000 August Sander: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum), pp. 15-17, 21.

2006 Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1383-1387.

2011 People Watching (URL:

2006 Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien (London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.), p. 289.

1981 Popular Photography, Vol. LXXXVIII (New York: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), pp. 14, 140.

2004 Record Pictures edited by Michael Collins (London: Thomas Telford Publishing), p. 1842.

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2019-01-05 21:56:24

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