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August Sander

(Herdorf, Germany, 1876 - 1964)

Europe, German

Sander captured the social class, profession and circumstance of his subjects through straightforward portraiture. His desire was to document the German people, the people of his time, in order to record the history of an entire generation.

August Sander was a miner for seven years before becoming a photographer. While living in Cologne in 1910, Sander earned a healthy living as a portrait photographer for the middle class. His intent to catalogue all German people, however, led him out of the studio and into the farmlands, factories and war camps of Germany. His comprehensive study, “Man of the Twentieth Century,” was spurred by his belief in physiognomy; while such views have since become outdated, Sander’s work retains value as a body of portraiture.

Sander’s first book, Face of Our Time, was popular in the 1920s-1930s, but the Nazis destroyed the original plates in 1934. In the 1950s his work was featured in Edward Steichen’s “Family of Man” show, which revitalized European interest in the photographer. Sander also photographed German landscapes and architecture, although the series he created of the Rhineland between 1934 and 1939 was not published until after his death. The Philadelphia Museum of Art featured a retrospective exhibit of his work in 1980.

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