The PhotoBook

January 5, 2010

August Sander – Face of Our Time

Copyright of the Estate of August Sander, 2003 courtesy Schirmer Mosel Verlag

In 1929 August Sander (1876 – 1964), a German portrait photographer, published his first book Antlizer der Zeit (Faces of Our Times) by Kurt Wolff Verlag, with an essay by the German writer Alfred Doblin. This famous book was re-issued by Schirmer Mosel Verlag in their Schirmer Art Books series, a great little photobook for this well-known photographer.

The relatively compact size (7-1/2” x 5-3/4”) of this softcover book makes it a wonderful little reference photobook on Sander’s larger body of work. Although containing only 60 duotones, it contains some of Sander’s trademark photographs of the German people he embarked on documenting. The rarity of the original book was increased in the late 1930’s when the Nazi regime seized his books and photographic plates and destroyed them.

Sander had a profitable portrait studio in Germany and after he joined “Group of Progressive Artists” in Cologne (Kohn) in the early 1920’s, he embarked on documenting his contemporary society. What made a difference in his work was to photograph this project outside the confines of his studio, to go to the people and their environment. And this was usually accomplished by riding his bike while lugging his plate camera. Sander’s series later evolved to his larger project People of the 20th Century (Menschen des 20 Jahrhundert), which he eventually expanded to an archive of over 40,000 photographs.

In this series, he was attempting to illustrate a cross-section of  German society, although he had intended to categorize them by certain social types. Stating that “[w]e know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled.”

The series is divided into seven sections: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, and The Last People.

In his naturalist style, he had captured ordinary people leading their ordinary lives. So although his concept and intent was flawed, he nevertheless captured some wonderful portraits of people.

By Douglas Stockdale



  1. […] Bessard’s subjects intently gaze directly into the photographer’s lens, creating a connection with the photographer and subsequently with us, the viewer. They are aware of the photographers presence and that their likeness is being captured, probably requested to stop for their portrait in the middle of their work day. It appears that the work that his subjects perform is hard and dirty, perhaps even with some element of danger if not performed with skill. Studying their stance and expression, they appear determined. This is a mini cultural portrait study in black & white, a theme and documentary style which has it heritage harkening back to the photographic work of August Sander. […]

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  2. […] entero en infinitas colecciones de fotos estuvo medio de moda en los círculos fotográficos de Alemania, y también en los Estados Unidos. Después, el euge de la fotografía de prensa barrió con todas […]

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  3. […] 14 years and as many volumes to complete this project. As environmental portraits, I think even August Sander, the German photographer who had similar goals of capturing the essence of a community, realized […]

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  4. […] ofreció con sus retratos Face of our time un amplio catálogo objetivo de la sociedad alemana durante la  República de Weimar. Su proyecto […]

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  5. […] Sander – A famous portrait and documentary photographer. Better known for his work of Portrait of Our Time, here is a short video documentary named People of the 20th Century displaying some of his […]

    Pingback by Inspiration for my idea – where it all began | Indulgeinmedia — March 18, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

  6. […] Face of Our Time (August Sander) – de família simples, com a ajuda do tio começou a fazer foto comercial, mas tinha necessidade de entrar em contato com a classe operária; no entanto, escondia essas fotos por conta do nazismo (“O seu livro Face of our Time foi apoderado em 1936 pelos nazistas e as placas foram destruídas“). […]

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