Lived from 1876 until 1964, August Sander was a German documentary and portrait photographer who is still considered as being significantly and brilliantly adept at photographing German portraits in the early 20th century. At the time of the World War, it was a courageous step by Sander to work on such a subject.
He was the son of a mine worker, and Sander did the same work initially as his father. During that time he found somebody who worked for a mining company and was also a photographer. Sander’s first introduction to photography had been through this man. Sander found the subject interesting and with the help of his uncle, he constructed a darkroom and bought equipment for photography. From 1897 to 1899, he worked as an assistant for a photographer. After completing his service for the military, he traveled through Germany, doing industrial and architectural photography.
In 1901, he began working in Linz in a Austrian photography studio. August Sander eventually became one of the partners and later the studio’s sole proprietor by 1904. In the same year, at the Paris Exposition, Sander was given the Cross of Honor and a gold medal. During this time, he experimented using color in photography and this work was taken by the Leipzig Museum. Sander’s first solo exhibition was held in 1906 at the Landhaus Pavilion, Linz. Three years later, in Cologne he established a new photo studio.
August Sander started working on People of the 20th Century, a portrait series, in 1911. In the German Army, Sander served through World War I. Despite this he continued with his photography venture. By 1919, he started teaching students and apprentices.
Near the beginning of 1920s, he got in touch with Kölner Progressive, a group of artists. In 1927, he traveled for three months across Sardinia where he took approximately 500 images of landscapes and people. In 1929, Sander published a photo book, titled Face of our Time. It includes portraits from his first series. Alfred Döblin introduced the book with an essay, On Faces, Pictures and their Truth.
However, due to the constrains imposed by the Nazi regime on Sander’s personal and professional life, the book in 1936 was seized and the photo plates were destroyed. Eric, his son, who belonged to the Socialist Workers’ Party was detained and during his ten year imprisonment, he died in 1944. In the same year, Sander’s studio was damaged due to a bomb attack.
In 1935, while his son was in jail, Sander started working on a series of landscapes in Rhineland. While the World War II was still on, he printed pre-war photos of men who died during the war or were missing. He dedicated these prints to the families of those men.
Sander shifted to a rural region from Cologne. This change of place allowed him to rescue several negatives of his work. Sadly, in 1946 some looters destroyed these negatives. Despite this chaos in his life and work, he still kept producing work.
In 1951 at Photokina, an exhibition, Sander’s work was displayed. Many of his photos were chosen by Edward Steichen to be included in the exposition, Family of Man in 1955. Three years later, the German Photographic Society made Sander their honorary associate. The following year, he was given the chance to do a one-man exhibition. In 1960, the Federal Republic of Germany gave him the Order of Merit.
After three years, in 1963 Sander died of a stroke in Cologne.