Trying to document a nation of people is no mean feat, and would have been substantially more difficult in the early 1900s without the availability of modern technology. However, the new exhibition at the Dean Gallery proves that it was possible.
August Sander, one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the twentieth century, made it his life-long ambition to document the nation of Weimar Germany, classifying them into seven groups according to their occupation or position in society: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’, and ‘The Last People’.
Sander’s aim was to show these people in a historical perspective, so that we can look back and see the groups which helped shape German society. The classification process may show that it was a varied nation, but the way in which the figures are presented, in front of a neutral background, wearing work clothes and facing us head-on with no expression, gives an impression of collective as opposed to individual identity.
The people are presented as a whole, a visual representation of the geographic unification of Germany; a concept that changed dramatically in the turbulent years of war to follow. The images that we are presented with are incredibly raw, but the viewer cannot delve further into the lives of these people. Instead we are left with a stereotypical image of a soldier, or mother.
Nevertheless, this exhibition is a brilliant overview of Sander’s work, and is demonstrative of the enormous influence he had on modern photography.
Exhibition: August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century
Venue: Dean Gallery
Dates: 12th February - 10th July 2011
Originally published in The Journal, printed and online, 23/02/11