Monday, 17 March 2014

19: August Sander

Exercise brief: 200 words on Sander’s seven category system.

Sander’s big project was to capture, photographically, all the densely nuanced layers of German society between the two World Wars and for a while after. To do this he attempted to adopt a neutral, scientific approach – capturing every different profession, calling, vocation he could find. He seems to have been a believer in physiognomy (none of us are perfect!!) (Fallis, n.d.) which probably led him to believe that it was possible to visually arrange people in the prevalent German class/caste system. To make this easier he arranged his photos in seven broad categories which are as much about his beliefs and understanding of society as they are about the individuals he photographed. If we compare his works with a modern practitioner – such as Zed Nelson and his work Disappearing Britain – we can easily identify some apparent similarities of visual approach. However, it is clear the Nelson is much closer to cataloguing . He is not attempting to identify or impose order – merely bring to our attention groups of people linked by interest or occupation, whose role he perceives as disappearing - the assumptions and cultural norms which informed Sander’s work become more apparent for comparison – which is not to denigrate the achievement of his project – simply to note that it was not as objective as may have believed.

With the exercise out of the way there are a couple of other points that strike me about the nature of Sander’s work:

  • the first is that he stuck with it, in spite of the fact that his attempt at neutrality irritated the Nazis, because of his equal portrayal of groups they preferred to persecute and groups they did not.
  • I’ve seen some of his prints at Side Gallery in Newcastle, and in spite of his attempts at objectivity, and Clarke’s suggestion that his portraits were not seeking to be characterisations (Clarke, 1997) I can’t help but feel that Sander was an individual who deeply cared about people, and who’s sympathy’s came through in his images – or is that simply me reading things into them? Who knows?

Badger, G., 2007. The Genius of Photography. London: Quadrille Publishing Ltd..
Clarke, G., 1997. The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Course Notes, 2014
Fallis, G., n.d. August Sander. [Online]
Available at: http://www.utata.org/sundaysalon/august-sander/
[Accessed 16 March 2014].

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