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August Sander at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Sarah Moroz writing for VINGT Paris Pop_expophoto_1b
August Sander sought to closely examine both the botanical and human spheres. The German photographer lucidly depicted an era of society, with clear indications to the period (Germany in the 30s) yet also with a timelessness regarding the categorical nature of society.

Sander zoomed in on plant life and zoomed out on crisp landscapes well before Ansel Adams. The sharp horizons of sky and field in contrast with the ripples of land and lake, sometimes catching that beautifully lit moment when the sun is just edging out from behind the clouds.

But, more powerful than the landscapes, is Sander's indexical inventory of portraits of German citizens, a project he called Men of the Twentieth Century. Sander captured people from all walks of life on film, indiscriminately casting his eye from one end of the spectrum to the other. Peasants with weathered skin in plain clothes among rural settings; respected professionals with proud posture sporting three-piece suits, crisp collars, and well-groomed mustaches; intellos in round glasses and dark capes. He classified his photos by giving them titles according to the subjects profession so as they become representations of their background rather than characterized people: the composer, the architect, the mailman, the coal worker. In all of these instances, the uniform is one indicator of their identity, reflecting occupation, social class, wealth, lifestyle.

Sander snapped portraits of children, too. These children look stangely somber, their startled eyes unsmiling, without playfulness, features more akin to adults with years of worry behind them than young children.

Pop_expophoto_1a Sander also photographed marginalized individuals:His work and gaze was unaffected by his subjects outsider status. Where Diane Arbus received much criticism for photographing similarly marginalized subjects, Sander's work does not seem susceptible to the problematic views heaped onto the slice of society Arbus focused in on. Dwarfs and circus folk accompany the judge and the philosopher in a complete picture of German society.


August Sander: Voir, Observer et Penser through December 20th.

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

2, impasse Lebouis 75014 

Métro: Edgar Quinet, Gaité

Bonapart Paris apartments



Thanks for reminding me, I've been meaning to see it for weeks. Just got back from the Michael Kenna retrospective at the Bibliothèque Nationale Richelieu; very much worth seeing.

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