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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > August Sander: People of the 20th Century: Portraits of German Citizens 1910-1940

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August Sander
People of the 20th Century
Portraits of German Citizens 1910-1940

August Sander (1876-1964) was the most significant of German photographers in the first half of this century. From 1910 until 1934, he vigorously pursued a visual documentation project: "Citizen of the 20th Century." His ambitious portrait series was intended to make viewers aware of the social and cultural dimensions as well as the stratifications of real life.
In 1929, August Sander published the first of his portraits in Antlitz der Zeit [Face of Our Time]. The publication was immensely popular with the artists and writers of his era. Novelist Thomas Mann described the portraits as "a treasure-trove for lovers of physiognomy and an outstanding opportunity for the study of human types." Regretfully, Sander‘s work did not fit into the political climate of Germany before World War II. In 1934, the Nazis confiscated Antlitz der Zeit and printing plates for the book were destroyed; fortunately, the negatives survived. Although he was not politically involved, Sander abandoned his portrait project in 1934 and turned his attention to landscape photography.
From a Washington Post review by Lee Fleming:
"It‘s all about faces: Faces of ordinary people -and a few extraordinary ones- mostly now long dead. Between 1910 and 1934, German photographer August Sander traveled about his country making portraits of the folk he encountered in streets, alleys, music halls, woodlands, universities, kitchens and anywhere else his prying lenses took him. Of this visual documentation, initially titled "Citizens of the 20th Century," he said his purpose was to "speak the truth in all honesty about our age and the people of our age." The first of his efforts were published in 1929 as a folio of prints called Antlitz der Zeit [Face of Our Time]...... Unfortunately, if predictably, the images Sander produced didn‘t wear well with the Nazis, who in 1934 confiscated the folios and destroyed the plates. But luckily the negatives were overlooked, so we‘re still able to study and admire the portraits. And they are fascinating."
Exhibitions of August Sander photographs have been hosted extensively in major museums nationally and internationally. The most comprehensive collection of August Sander material is housed at the August Sander Archive, Cologne, Germany.
The photographs on view were printed from the original negatives by Gerd Sander, August Sander’s grandson.
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; ARS, New York, 2007 



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