August Sander – A Postscript

In my earlier post discussing August Sander’s comprehensive study of German ‘types’ made in the first half of the 20th century, I limited myself to the sixty plates included in the 1929 book, Face of our Time at least in part because this was the only part of Sander’s wider project where he had been in complete control of how it was presented.

As I looked for copies of the images I wanted to use to illustrate my post, I realised that the pictures included in the book had often been cropped from wider – sometimes much wider – original images. For example, the Shepherd – Pl.2 in the book –  has been cropped down from a wider composition, concentrating the picture’s depiction of it’s subject’s lined face and removing extraneous detail.

fig.1 – Unemployed (pl.60) as shot

Mostly, the cropping of the images for publication simply concentrates the meaning of the original, but, in at least one instance – Unemployed (Pl.60) – the effect is completely changed. In my post, I commented on the way the background of stone blocks left the subject effectively imprisoned by his state; his face is large in the frame. In the version of the picture that seems most available online, the unemployed man is considerably more ‘located in a place’ with the mid-shot revealed to be a full-length portrait of a man, tucked away around a corner.

You can see that the object he is holding is a crumpled hat (like the one indentified as a photographic symbol of the 1930s depression by Dyer in The Ongoing Moment). Two men pushing bicycles (policemen?) can be made out, soft in the out of focus background. Again, through manipulation of the focal plane by using his camera’s movements, the only thing that is fully in focus is the man’s face. I have indicated the book version’s crop with digital chinagraph on fig.1,

The effect of the wider shot is very different. The ‘objectivity’ of the book version is missing and instead, the unemployed man becomes an object of pathos, pictured within a wider context. The two men in the background add the beginnings of a narrative. The cropped version fits Sander’s project much better, I think, concentrating on the man who exemplifies his ‘type’.

There is currently (June 23 – October 15 2017) a large (140+ photographs) exhibition of Sander’s photographs (and paintings by Otto Dix, offered in highly subjective counterpoint) on at Tate Liverpool. I must try and get up there to see it. I could tie it in with some personal research around the family photographs that were included in my archival intervention post



Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933, Tate Liverpool ( – accessed 27/6/17)

Dyer, G  (2006) The Ongoing Moment London, Abacus



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.