Human Diversity

The work of pioneering documentary photographer August Sander (b.1876-1964) is celebrated at Hauser & Wirth, New York. Recognised as a forefather of conceptual art and a remarkable documentarian of human diversity, Sander’s pivotal and lifelong project, People of the 20th Century, has inspired generations of photographers, including notable icons such as Diane Arbus, Walker Evans and Bernd & Hilla Becher. The self-titled exhibition pays homage to the late German photographer’s oeuvre through a showcase of 40 rare large-scale portraits from the August Sander Family Collection, made between 1910 and 1931. These images depict Germany’s complex socioeconomic landscape in the years leading up to and through the Weimar Republic, and engage the public with Sander’s early work that preceded and laid the framework for his landmark publication.

In particular, 12 pictures from Portfolio of Archetypes reflect the photographer’s systematic manner of documenting Germany’s ethnic and class diversity, as well as a break in his aesthetic approach. It was through Portfolio of Archetypes that he first enlarged images using smooth, glossy paper that was typically reserved for technical images. In employing this material, he created portraits that were extraordinarily detailed, naturally lit and adopted a straightforward perspective. This differed greatly from his previous work, which favoured softer, more painterly portraiture, and it provided Sander with the tools to truthfully catalogue his era and fellow citizens.

The Portfolio of Archetypes selection in August Sander features stoic farming men and women in single, double and group portraits. The sitters tell their own stories through their expressions, gestures, poses, clothing and accessories. Sander presented each of his subjects as wholly individual and representative of a broader ‘type’ of person; the photographs’ titles include The Man of the Soil, The Sage, The Philosopher and The Farming Couple. Expanding this conceptual framework, Sander went on to document individuals across the many strata of German society in strikingly frank images. Decades after the images were taken, Sander’s son Gunther selected and sequenced 231 of his father’s photographs, including four landscape photographs, for publication in Men Without Masks: Faces of Germany 1910-1938. The 40 images in August Sander are drawn from this carefully chosen group.

August Sander, until 17 June, Hauser & Wirth, New York, 69th Street.


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1. August Sander, The Architect Hans Heinz Luttgen and his Wife Dora 1926, printed 1990. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper. Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010.