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Citizens of the
Twentieth Century
August Sander Portrait Photographs, 1892-1952
Edited by Gunther Sander

Citizens of the
Twentieth Century
August Sander Portrait Photographs, 1892-1952
Edited by Gunther Sander

Learn the history of a work style from a series of portraits.

In this latest issue, Silver focuses on new work styles. I hope you will find inspiration from interviews with people from various fields and a fashion editorial to redefine a modern work style. But to understand the context better, it is good to look at some archives of work styles prior to reading through this issue. One of the best examples is from the photographer August Sander who took a series of portrait pictures of people from different classes and professions in Germany over one hundred years ago. A collection of his portrait work, Citizens of the Twentieth Century was put together in an attempt to capture the society as a whole and is known as his masterpiece. His portrait project influenced many photographers and is a landmark in the history of photography, so I believe many of you must have seen some of them before. Now, when looking at these pictures with regards to work styles, it is also compelling from another point of view.
August Sander was born in Herdorf, Germany in 1876. While working in a coal mine to support his family, he happened to help a photographer who was working for the mine, and he came to realise the aesthetics of photography and from there, his passion grew. At the age of 23, he started working for a photographic studio and made a living from portrait photography. During the First World War, he was enlisted for military service and joined an infantry unit. After experiencing the tragic war and witnessing the death of many people, he decided to document people’s way of life as it really is. He started to photograph people by categorizing them into seven groups: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’. He continuously took portrait pictures for many years with the aim of creating a series of 45 portfolios, each consisting of twelve pictures, however due to the political situation at the time, he passed away leaving his legacy behind. After his death, Gunther Sander, August Sander’s son, also a photographer, printed August’s pictures from the original negatives and edited them with the concept that August intended in order to complete his father’s photography book, and it was published in 1980. It consists of 431 photographs taken from 1910 to 1952, followed by pieces of text contributed by Ulrich Keller, a Professor of Art History at the University of California in Santa Barbara, as well as a rare picture of August Sander that was taken around 1892. Gunther used the title Citizens of the Twentieth Century, originally chosen by August. There is an enormous amount of pictures depicting people’s lives from about a hundred years ago. Witnessing the various occupations and styles of the time, when there was no computer technology or Internet, you cannot help but experience a kind of ‘culture shock’ from the gap between then and now. It is said that August gave instructions to the models not to smile because he believed that their true personalities would be better represented with a straight face. Strong eyes, serious faces, backgrounds, and outfits which appeared in the photographs are very evocative and attractive. One of the most famous pictures among the series is said to be the cover photo ‘Young Farmers’ (1914). Despite the hard life of the farmers, the three men in the picture demonstrated that they cared about their appearance by dressing up in suits, hats, and each carried a walking stick. It has to be said, they do look undeniably cool even though it was over 100 years ago. This book is also regarded as a ‘textbook’ in the fashion world because it shows people from various occupations and social classes from the period. It has inspired many fashion designers, including Yoji Yamamoto, who created a menswear collection for the Autumn/Winter 2013-14 under the theme of August Sander. There is no other portrait series with such historical value that is so conceptual and vast as that which August Sander realized, and his work will surely be admired for many generations to come. Compared to those days, we now have a well-established infrastructure and live in a digitalised world that has changed our work style, however the work styles of a ‘Master Shoemaker’ or ‘Pastry Chef’ on the left of the page shows that some work styles haven’t changed so much up to now. If AI and robotics develop further, our wardrobes will also change in the future. In a rapidly changing world, I wonder how long we will be able to see the reality in these portraits by August? We see a certain quality in their style, but what will they think of us in the future when they see our present style? There is a quote by August about his works; “Whether you like it or not, I have to tell the truth to our people and future generations”, and his photographs show us what it was at that time, and makes us think. Knowing the past gives us an opportunity to think about now and the future. What is your take on peoples’ work style from the past and the present?

 
 

August Sander
Born in Herdorf, Germany in 1876. His work includes landscape, nature, architecture, and street photography, but he is best known for his portraits.

 
 
 

Photo Taijun Hiramoto Text Takayasu Yamada Translation Fumie Tsuji

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