August Sander

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August Sander
August Sander.jpeg
Born(1876-11-17)17 November 1876
Herdorf, Rhine Province
Died20 April 1964(1964-04-20) (aged 87)
Spouse(s)Anna Seitenmacher (m. 1902)

August Sander (17 November 1876 – 20 April 1964) was a German portrait and documentary photographer. Sander's first book Face of our Time (German: Antlitz der Zeit) was published in 1929. Sander has been described as "the most important German portrait photographer of the early twentieth century".[1]


Sander was born in Herdorf, the son of a carpenter working in the mining industry. While working at a local mine, Sander first learned about photography by assisting a photographer who was working for a mining company. With financial support from his uncle, he bought photographic equipment and set up his own darkroom.

He spent his military service (1897–1899) as a photographer's assistant and the next years wandering across Germany. In 1901, he started working for a photo studio in Linz, Austria, eventually becoming a partner (1902), and then its sole proprietor (1904). He left Linz at the end of 1909 and set up a new studio in Cologne.

In 1911, Sander began with the first series of portraits for his work People of the 20th Century [de]. In the early 1920s, he came in contact with the Cologne Progressives, a radical group of artists linked to the workers' movement, which, as Wieland Schmied put it,

"sought to combine constructivism and objectivity, geometry and object, the general and the particular, avant-garde conviction and political engagement, and which perhaps approximated most to the forward looking of New Objectivity [...] ".[2]

In 1927, Sander and writer Ludwig Mathar [de] travelled through Sardinia for three months, where he took around 500 photographs. However, a planned book detailing his travels was not completed.

Sander's Face of our Time was published in 1929. It contains a selection of 60 portraits from his series People of the 20th Century, and is introduced by an essay by Alfred Döblin titled "On Faces, Pictures, and their Truth". Under the Nazi regime, his work and personal life were greatly constrained. His son Erich, who was a member of the left wing Socialist Workers' Party (SAP), was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in 1944, shortly before the end of his sentence. Sander's book Face of our Time was seized in 1936 and the photographic plates destroyed.

Around 1942, during World War II, he left Cologne and moved to the small village of Kuchhausen, in the Westerwald region; this allowed him to save the most important part of his body of work. His Cologne studio was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid, but tens of thousands of negatives, which he had left behind in a basement near his former apartment in the city, survived the war. 25,000 to 30,000 negatives in this basement were then destroyed in a 1946 fire. That same year, Sander began his postwar photographic documentation of the city.

In 1953, Sander sold a portfolio of 408 photographs of Cologne, taken between 1920 and 1939, to the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum. These would be posthumously published in book format in 1988, under the title Köln wie es war (Cologne as it was).

In 1962, 80 photographs from the People of the 20th Century project were published in book format, under the name Deutschenspiegel. Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (German Mirror. People of the 20th Century).

Sander died of a stroke on 20 April 1964. He was buried next to his son Erich in Cologne's Melaten Cemetery.

Memorial plaque at his residence in Cologne
Sander's grave, Melaten Cemetery, Cologne


Sander's work includes landscape, nature, architecture, and street photography, but he is best known for his portraits, as exemplified by his series People of the 20th Century. In this series, he aims to show a cross-section of society during the Weimar Republic. The series is divided into seven sections: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, and The Last People (homeless persons, veterans, etc.). By 1945, Sander's archive included over 40,000 images.

In Wim Wenders' 1987 film Der Himmel über Berlin ("Wings of Desire"), the character Homer (played by Curt Bois) studies the portraits of People of the 20th Century (1980 edition) while visiting a library.

In 2002, the August Sander Archive and scholar Susanne Lange published a seven-volume collection comprising 619 of Sander's photographs, August Sander: People of the 20th Century.

In 2008, the Mercury crater Sander was named after him.[3]

Sander's estate is represented by Galerie Julian Sander, which was established in 2009 by his great grandson, since 2017 in collaboration with Hauser & Wirth.[4][5]


  • August Sander, People of the 20th Century, São Paulo Bienal, Brazil [6]
  • August Sander: um Bonn, Feroz Galerie, Bonn Germany, 23 November 2012 – 18 January 2013[7]
  • Portrait.Landscape.Architecture, Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, Moscow Russia, 21 January – 21 June 2013[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Collins, Record Pictures (Thomas Telford Publishing, 2004), p. 1842
  2. ^ Wieland Schmied: "Neue Sachlichkeit. Der deutsche Realismus der zwanziger Jahre", in: Kritische Grafik in der Weimarer Zeit, Op. cit., p. 21. As cited in: August Sander 1876–1964. Lange, Susanne, p. 108. ISBN 3-8228-7179-6
  3. ^ "Mercury Features Receive New Names" Archived 13 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine by Paulette Cambell, press release Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University (28 April 2008)
  4. ^ "Galerie Julian Sander". Ocula.
  5. ^ Alex Greenberger (February 9, 2017), Hauser & Wirth Now Represents the Estate of August Sander ARTnews.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Around Bonn – FEROZ Galerie, Bonn – Vintage and Contemporary Photogra…". 2013-07-06. Archived from the original on 2013-07-06.
  8. ^ "Exhibitions: Portrait. Landscape. Architecture (Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow)". Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow. Retrieved 2019-01-24.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]