People of the Twentieth Century, August Sander’s comprehensive visual examination of German society, remains among the most ambitious undertakings in the history of photography. With the 619 photographs that he produced primarily between the two world wars, Sander sought to create a typology that reflected the spectrum of social classes and professional divisions of the day.
Sander began to conceive of the structure for this work in the mid-1920s, dividing the images into seven groups that incorporated at least forty-five distinct portfolios, each representing a distinct subsection within German society. The first of these groups, “The Farmer,” a portfolio of which is on view, anchored the project with portraits made or commissioned in the rural community of the Westerwald region in Germany. Sander titled the subsequent six groups “The Skilled Tradesman,” “The Woman,” “Classes and Professions,” “The Artists,” “The City,” and “The Last People” (which depicts old age, sickness, and death). Once Sander had identified his broader ambition, he sought out sitters who could function as both individuals and types, and he carefully aligned his designations with the way his subjects identified themselves.
All 619 works were printed from the artist’s original glass-plate negatives by Gerd Sander, his grandson, and Jean-Luc Differdange between 1990 and 1999. This edition was acquired in 2015 from the artist’s family and joined the eighty works by Sander that were already in the Museum’s collection.
Organized by the Department of Photography.