Collections

Skip navigation
Media File
August Sander
Date: German, 1876-1964
Biography:

Born in Herdorf-am-der-Sieg, August Sander received his first camera from an uncle in 1892 and promptly set up a darkroom and taught himself photography. After serving in the German military, he took up photography full-time. He established a photography studio, first in Austria, then in Cologne, where he settled in 1910 and made photographs of local peasants. This activity inspired his life's work--a comprehensive document of the German people entitled "Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts" (Citizens of the Twentieth Century). He worked on the project throughout the next two decades, while also producing photographs of architectural and industrial subjects. By the early 1930s, Sander was recognized as an authority on photography in Germany and delivered a series of popular radio lectures, "The Nature and Development of Photography." As Hitler rose to power in the early 1930s, Sander was forced to discontinue "Citizens of the Twentieth Century": his son (who died in prison in 1944) was a member of the Communist party, and this made Nazi officials suspicious of Sander's work. When five books of Sander's Deutsche Lande - Deutsche Menschen (German Land, German People) appeared in 1933-34, they were readily confiscated by the Nazis, who destroyed the plates and confiscated his negatives. Fortunately, Sander salvaged a number of his negatives after the war and re-printed some; the images are now in collections worldwide. Sander's archive, including his negatives, is now held by SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne. He received many honors and awards in his lifetime, and his work has been included in a number of important international exhibitions.

The photographs from August Sander's "Citizens of the Twentieth Century" are matter-of-fact portraits of people from all social classes and all walks of life. Sander's interest in his subjects' roles in society makes his images an indispensable record of life in Germany between 1911 and 1933. His style, the conceptual basis of his project, and its sweeping scope have influenced upon postwar photographers around the world.

Lisa Hostetler
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 227.