August Sander

Part of the Cologne Group, group of ‘progressive artists’.

Produced a series of portraits of German people in the early 1920’s, when studio photographers were suffering due to the social and economic changes of the middle class.

During the time he joined the Cologne Group, he sought to make photography an art with a social orientation and his conception of the ‘twentieth century man’.  An idea he discussed and explained to Franz Seiwert (a socialist painter).

‘Pure photography allows us to create portraits which render their subjects with absolute truth, truth both physical and psychological.  That is the principle which provided my starting point, once I had said to myself that if we can create  portraits of subjects that are true, we thereby in effect create a mirror of the times in which those subjects live .

In order to give a representative glimpse of the present age and of our German people, I have collected these photographs into various portfolios,starting with the peasant and ending with representatives of the intellectual aristocracy. This is then paralleled with an album which traces the evolution from village to modern urban concentrations.

By using absolute photography to establish a record both of the various social classes and ef their environments, I hope to give a faithful picture of the psychology of our age and of our people.’

Sander described himself as a documentary photographer that used the truth of photography to create a representation of  higher interest.

His method is that of deliberate confrontation between the photographer and the subject, the latter free to strike a pose. Always in the context of his work, his clothes and his daily environment.

The book ‘Men of the Twentieth Century’ attempted a portrait of society, showing profession, social strata, class, gender and the hierarchies of the people during the Weimar Republic creating a system of reference and of comparison between the portraits.

In 1934 the Nazis confiscated the remaining copies of the book and discontinued its reproductions.

Sanders devoted to photograph the landscape in order to avoid suspicion.

Up until 1945 his series of portraits included Prisoners of the National Socialists and Persecuted Jews.



“Man of the Twentieth Century” was Sander’s monumental, lifelong photographic project to document the people of his native Westerwald, near Cologne. Stating that “[w]e know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled,” Sander photographed subjects from all walks of life and created a typological catalogue of more than six hundred photographs of the German people. Although the Nazis banned the portraits in the 1930s because the subjects did not adhere to the ideal Aryan type, Sander continued to make photographs. After 1934 his work turned increasingly to nature and architectural studies.


Sander believed that society was organized into a hierarchy of occupations. One section of his project is dedicated to the skilled tradesman, including master craftsmen, industrialists, technicians, and inventors. Subjects associated with intellectual or “white-collar” labor were usually photographed indoors in three-quarter-length poses, while master craftsmen were portrayed in their working environment with the tools of their trades. Portrayed as he emerges from the dark basement of a building, the coal carrier in the image above belongs to the lower ranks of labor and is symbolically associated with the bowels of German society.

The Farmer

The first section of People of the Twentieth Century is dedicated to the farmer. It begins with a Stammappe, or portfolio of archetypes. Usually three-quarter-length portraits, the photographs depict old farming men, women, and couples seated in their homes or against a natural backdrop. Each is captioned to suggest the fundamental role played by the individual in a balanced society. Sander referred to this farmer as the “earthbound man.” Other archetypes include the “philosopher,” the “fighter or revolutionary,” and the “sage.” All had female counterparts, while couples were labeled as “propriety and harmony.”

The section also includes portfolios of the young farmer and his family, his work and life, farming types, the small-town dweller, and sport. Lasting several seconds, the exposures required by Sander’s large-plate camera encouraged his subjects to arrange themselves and carefully pose.

Classes and Professions

The businessman and parliamentarian Johannes Scheerer, seen in this image, was one of many individuals at the fringes of the political spectrum. Here he shoulders his umbrella like a shotgun, measuring up the viewer with an owlish, suspicious glance. Behind this formidable facade lurks a character more akin to a provincial schoolmaster than a legislator.

The image belongs to one of the larger sections in Sander’s project, classes and professions, which sprawls through portfolios that depict the student, scholar, official, doctor and pharmacist, judge and attorney, soldier, aristocrat, clergyman, teacher and educator, businessman, and politician. In many of these portraits, a neutral background emphasizes the details of the sitters’ facial features and clothing. Sander’s later addition of National Socialists to this section provides an unsettling glimpse of daily reality in Cologne, a city that was largely supportive of Hitler.

The Woman

The sections in People of the Twentieth Century were very much a product of the times, and no single section demonstrates this better than the one devoted to women, in which sitters are defined primarily by their relationships to men and children. As the section unfolds, wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters give way to the “elegant woman” and women “in intellectual and practical occupation.” Family groupings emphasize the relationships among the subjects as well as between each sitter and the camera.

Here Ada Riphahn, the wife of Wilhelm Riphahn, who designed the Cologne Opera House, radiates a confidence appropriate to her age and social standing. The plush velvet chair, feathery dog at her side, and shimmering blouse are balanced by the strong lines of the drapery to create a richly textured

The Artist

The array of writers, actors, painters, sculptors, architects, and musicians in the section of Sander’s project dedicated to the artist attests to the breadth of his interests and friendships. German artist Ingeborg von Rath (1902–1984), shown here, studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Cologne and traveled extensively throughout Europe. In 1927 she settled in Bonn where she first met Sander. In this image, her skilled hands are gently poised and her face deeply introspective, befitting her artistic specialization of portrait busts.

Sander’s Cologne studio was a popular gathering place for young artists who engaged in lively debates about social and aesthetic concerns of the day, in particular the politically minded, left-wing artists known as the Cologne Progressives. These discussions helped advance Sander’s idea to create a dynamic, cumulative portrayal of modern society. Although he was not perceived to be part of the European photographic avant-garde, Sander’s photographs incorporated some of the thinking of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), an art movement in the mid-1920s that advocated a detached aesthetic toward subjects from everyday life.

The City

Sander captured the varied life of the city with portfolios dedicated to urban youth, street life, traveling people, festivities, servants, foreign workers, and the unemployed. Although the section avoids many of the extremes and depravities that have come to be associated with Weimar Germany during the period between the two world wars, it also included remarkable portraits of beggars and others who found their way to Sander’s studio, and Jews who commissioned passport photographs that would allow them to escape Germany.

Within the portfolio on city youth, this image portrays Sander’s friend Gottfried Brockmann (1903–1983), a young German painter associated with the Cologne Progressives who lived with the Sander family for almost two years. In contrast with another portrait of Brockman at his easel in the section on artists, this image underscores the contemplative nature of artistic practice.

The Last People

The two girls in this photograph face the camera in a vague imitation of traditional posing principles. Their interlocking hands provide the emotional core of the image, compensating for their inability to make eye contact with the camera and with one another.

For the final section of People of the Twentieth Century, in which this portrait is found, Sander photographed “idiots, the sick, the insane, and the dying.” Whether single figures or groups, indoors or out, these “last people” are presented in the same uncompromising way that he approached his other subjects. Remarkably, Sander never let his work devolve into a clinical exercise, but instead imbued it with a sense of engagement with and respect for his subjects. Together the photographs illuminate the cyclical nature of Sander’s project, whereby in dying one returns to the earth and so the cycle begins anew.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Albert Renger-Patzsch, ‘New Objectivity’ (Neue Sachlichkeit)

Tagged , , ,

On New Objectivity . . .

quote from Mrs Deane  nothing is too amazing to be true

I fur­ther main­tain that an appre­cia­ble part of the so-called left-wing lit­er­a­ture had no other social func­tion than that of con­tin­u­ally extract­ing new effects or sen­sa­tions from this sit­u­a­tions for the public’s enter­tain­ment. Which brings me to the New Objec­tiv­ity. It launched the fash­ion for reportage. Let us ask our­selves whose inter­ests were advanced by this technique.

For greater clar­ity let me con­cen­trate on pho­to­graphic reportage. What­ever applies to it is trans­fer­able to the lit­er­ary form. Both owe their extra­or­di­nary devel­op­ment to pub­li­ca­tion tech­niques — radio and the illus­trated press. […] What do we see? It has become more and more sub­tle, more and more mod­ern, and the result is that it is now inca­pable of pho­tograph­ing a ten­e­ment or a rubbish-heap with­out trans­fig­ur­ing it. Not to men­tion a river dam or an elec­tric cable fac­tory: in front of these, pho­tog­ra­phy can now only say, ‘How beau­ti­ful.’ [ital­ics added] The World is beau­ti­ful — that is the well-known pic­ture book by Renger-Patzsch in which we see New Objec­tiv­ity pho­tog­ra­phy at its peak.

Here we have an extreme exam­ple of what it means to sup­ply a pro­duc­tion apara­tus with­out chang­ing it. […]  pho­tog­ra­phers pro­ceed in order to make human mis­ery an object of con­sump­tion. Turn­ing to the New Objec­tiv­ity as a lit­er­ary move­ment, I must go a step fur­ther and say that is has turned the strug­gle against mis­ery into an object of con­sump­tion . In many cases, indeed, its polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance has been lim­ited to con­vert­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary reflexes, in so far as these occured within the bour­geoisie, into themes of enter­tain­ment and amuse­ment which can be fit­ted with­out much dif­fi­culty into the cabaret life of a large city. The char­ac­ter­is­tic of this lit­er­a­ture [and this pho­tog­ra­phy, we may add] is the way it trans­forms a polit­i­cal strug­gle so that it ceases to be a com­pelling motive for deci­sion and becomes an arti­cle of com­fort­able con­tem­pla­tion; it ceases to be a means of pro­duc­tion and becomes an arti­cle of con­sump­tion [ital­ics added].


Tagged , , , , ,

Albert Renger-Patzsch, ‘New Objectivity’ (Neue Sachlichkeit)

Renger-Patzsch, Albert, Die Welt Ist Schön, München, Kurt Wolf Verlag, 1928, First German Edition, 4to (11.5″ x 8.75″), HB, blue cloth over flexible boards with silver gilt cover design & spine titles, G+ / none. Boards and spine worn, backstrip faded and chipped.

4to. pp. 22 pages of introductory text and list of plates, followed by 100 photographic plates by Renger-Patzsch, printed on rectos only.

Renger-Patzsch’s influential photographs of plant studies, animals, landscapes, industrial buildings and architectural motifs. An landmark work of early 20th century German photography. Albert Renger-Patzsch, a prominent figures of the modernist German movement – “New Objectivity”(Neue Sachlichkeit).

His striking photographs embody its principles in their sober, unsentimental vision. He explains his concept of photography in the 1927 “Das Deutsche Lichtbild” : “The secret of a good photograph, which can possess artistic qualities just as a work of visual art can, resides in its realism. For rendering our impressions of nature, of plants, animals, the works of architects and sculptors, and the creations of engineers, photography offers us a most reliable tool. We still don’t sufficiently appreciate the opportunities to capture the magic of material things the artists, and let us try to use the medium of photography to create photographs that can endure because of their photographic qualities – without borrowing from art.” Roosens and Salu 9229.

“Die Welt Ist Schön”[The World is Beautiful] was not the photographers’ preference as a title for his book – he preferred instead: “Die Dinge” [“Things”] as more exemplary of the movement’s goal to concentrate on the “everyday”, isolate the view of objects free from traditional contextual associations, thus creating a new aesthetic linking the natural to the man-made into a new metaphysical whole.


Eisen und Stahl — Iron and Steel. Berlin: Hermann Reckendorf, 1931.

Quarto (298 x 210 mm). 97 black and white photographs. Original blue cloth spine and silver papered boards, spine lettered in white, front cover blocked in black (light rubbing); photo-illustrated dust jacket (horizontal crease on upper and lower panel, ends of spine panel and a few minor marginal chips restored).

FIRST EDITION, IN THE RARE ORIGINAL DUST JACKET. The Photobook, p.125 (“a master of the dynamic close-up”).

Tagged , , , , ,

‘The New Objectivity’

++ From Ute Eskildsen a History of Photography

Germany: The Weimar Republic.

1918, the end of Kaiser Wilhelm’s empire.

With the new republican government universal suffrage was introduced. Radical social changes along with increased unemployment after the First World War (cessation of armament production), inflation and insecurity.

Workers needed protection, trade unions and commitees alarmed the bourgeoisie .

Artists in the early twenties rejected the past; the Kaiser’s time. Aiming for a ‘New World’ toward the future.

‘New Objectivity’

Quest for a new perspective in photography expressed as ‘a new point of view’ – ‘Sachlichkeit’ (objectivity)

Aiming at exactitude in reproduction and precision and a refusal to mask the technical nature of their means.

‘Neue Sachkichkeit’ defined in 1925 by G.H. Harlaub; a characteristic of the realist techniques used in the twenties by painters and applied by photographers.

‘Neue Sachkichkeit’ – desire for impartial analysis with hope that its objectivity would prove positive, clarifying effects.

The changes in Germany’s social structure brought also changes in the attitud towards technical progress. Looking with great interest towards the United States, technical achivement became a determining factor in social evolution but also the solution to all current politico-economic problems.

Two major tendencies emerged:

Albert Renger-Patzch; who selected subjects from the natural world and from the industrial sector.

Lazlo Moholy-Nagy; master at the Bauhaus and the most fervent advocate of photography as means of expression. Also most influential theoretician of the twenties.  Moholy-Nagy defineds this technical medium in terms of its interdependence with light: luminosity was the key to widening man’s field of perception.

Both trends: the exactitude of photography as a technical means of expression.

These positions gave rise on one hand to abstract realism and on the other, a type of realist photography modelled on the commercial exploitation found in illustrated magazines. Between these two were the ‘new observers’.

++By Sauer-Thompso: Australian modernism


German photography in the 1920’s and 1930’s (ie., New Photography) evolved through two highly articulated but divergent approaches: the school of objectivity (Albert Renger-Patzsch, Werner Mantz; Karl Blossfeldt; and August Sander) and the New Vision school of experimental possibilities (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy) that strongly emphasized the unity of all applied arts.
The Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivity) movement was an outgrowth of, and an opposition to, expressionism, and it avoided painterly effects of pictorialism which lead photographers to abandon the unique qualities of the medium. This machine aesthetic bought a sharply focused, documentary quality and a matter-of-fact style to art photography and was focused on form and design. It concentrated on the exact appearance of objects — their form, material, and surface and rejected any kind of artistic claim for the photographer since the photographer should strive to capture the “essence of the object”.

Tagged , , ,