Front / Recto

  • Title High School Student (Gymnasiast)
  • Negative Date 1926
  • Print Date 1926–55
  • Medium Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions Image 9 7/16 × 5 1/4" (24 × 13.4 cm)
    Sheet 12 7/16 × 9 1/8" (31.6 × 23.2 cm)
    Mount 17 3/8 × 13 1/8" (44.1 × 33.3 cm)
  • Place Taken Cologne
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
  • MoMA Accession Number 1852.2001
  • Copyright © 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY
  • Description

    Around 1910 August Sander began producing portraits for what would become his monumental project, People of the Twentieth Century (Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts): a photographic catalogue of the German people that traced the country’s transformation from agrarian society into modern industrialized nation. He eventually organized more than six hundred images into forty-five portfolios in seven categories: farmers, workers, women, professionals, artists, urbanites, and the “last people,” or those individuals on the fringe of society. In 1929, he published Antlitz der Zeit (Face of our time) (Munich: Transmare Verlag/Kurt Wolff Verlag), a group of sixty of these photographs that outlined his ideas about the existing social order, but the project’s incompatibility with Nazi ideology eventually caught the attention of Third Reich censors, who destroyed the printing plates and brought the survey to an official halt in 1936. Nonetheless, Sander quietly worked on additional portraits during the war and continued to add to it until the 1950s. Ever evolving, it was never completed.

    Antlitz der Zeit, one of several books published in Germany in the late 1920s that privileged photographs over text, aligned Sander with the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and the archival tendencies of contemporary German image-makers. In 1928, for example, Karl Blossfeldt had published close-up and magnified photographs of plants in Urformen der Kunst (Art forms in nature). Like Blossfeldt, Sander approached the medium not from an a priori desire to make art; rather, he developed an artistic idea out of the considered application of a professional practice. He had steadily pursued a career as a commercial portrait photographer since 1901.

    In a 1931 review of recent photography books, the American photographer Walker Evans called Sander’s technique a “clinical process,” likening it to the precise methods of a scientist.[1] Sander prized what he called “a clear pure photography,” which he achieved with standard materials and processes: Zeiss lenses, orthochromatic plates, and fine-grained glossy paper. He typically made photographs on 12 by 16.5 centimeter (4 ¾ by 6 ½ inch) or 13 by 18 centimeter (5 1/8 by 7 1/8 inch) plates and enlarged the images on 18 by 24 centimeter (7 1/8 by 9 ½ inch) paper, as he did for High School Student (Gymnasiast).

    The three-quarter-length portrait of a confident and casual young man, which appeared as plate 40 of Antlitz der Zeit, is supposed to be a representative image of a modern high school student. Sander hints at the origin and profession of his sitters through clothes, hairstyle, and gesture. Here, the half-smoked cigarette, nonchalant posture, and dandyish clothing point to the teenager’s cosmopolitan identity, and in Sander’s system of categories he belonged in “The City.” Sander drew attention to these pertinent markers of identity by enhancing the features of the exposed hand and the tip of the cigarette with dark paint. He further finished the print with careful Retouching, using a fine brush for the light spots and reducing dark lines with light scratching technique sometimes referred to as etching. Although he most often cropped his prints by overlaying them with a window mat to cover unwanted edge information, Sander trimmed this print to exclude distracting shadows, the dark lines from glass-plate holders, and possibly the name of the sitter scratched on the surface of the negative (visible in other existing prints of this image). The resulting bare, white space simultaneously abstracts and emphasizes the sitter’s urban background.

    High School Student demonstrates Sanders's ability to mine the universal from the particular. While his old-fashioned technique and categorization of people had the potential to reinforce conservative notions of history and society, he was able to challenge the homogenization attributable to modern urban anonymity, as the German writer Alfred Döblin wrote in his introduction to Antlitz der Zeit, by reminding viewers that a mass always consists of unique individuals.

    —Hanako Murata, Drew Sawyer

    [1] Walker Evans, “The Reappearance of Photography,” Hound and Horn, October–December 1931: 128.

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type Mount (original)
  • Marks and Inscriptions Embossed stamp on sheet recto, bottom right: AUG. SANDER LINDENTHAL/KÖLN [with circular outline]. Signed in pencil on mount recto, bottom right: Aug. Sander [underlined]/Köln. Stamped in red ink on sheet verso, center: METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART NEW YORK [with circular outline]. Stamped in blue ink over The Metropolitan Museum of Art stamp: DEACCESSIONED. Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, center: [illegible] 5 [mostly erased]. Inscribed in pencil on mount verso, bottom left: 7.
  • Provenance The artist, Westerwald, Germany; by inheritance to Gunther Sander, Cologne, 1964 [1]; to Volker Kahmen, Germany, after 1971 [2]; to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [3]; sold through Sotheby's New York (sale 6888, lot 214) to Galerie Berinson, Berlin, October 2, 1996 [4]; purchased by Thomas Walther, 1998 [5]; purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] Gerd Sander, e-mail to Simon Bieling, October 29, 2005; Sander, letter to Maria Morris Hambourg, October 31, 2013; and Rajka Knipper (August Sander Archiv, Cologne), e-mail to Bieling, October 31, 2005.
    [2] MacGill/Walther 2001(3), p. 20; and Sander, letter to Hambourg.
    [3] MacGill/Walther 2001(3), p. 20.
    [4] Ibid.
    [5] Ibid.; and Galerie Berinson invoice, February 2, 1998.


  • Retouch Detail
    Detail showing aqueous retouching, applied with a brush, and etching. The area of detail is 14 x 22 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Detail showing aqueous retouching applied with a brush. The area of detail is 14 x 22 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Surface Sheen Semireflective
  • Techniques Mount
    Retouching (additive)
    Retouching (reductive)
  • PTM
    Detail view of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Unknown
  • UV Fluorescence Recto negative
    Verso no data
  • Fiber Analysis No fiber data available
  • Material Techniques Developing-out paper
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: P, S, K, Ca, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba
    • Mount: Al, Si, S, K, Ca, Fe, Zn, Sr, Ba

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Al, Si, P, S, K, Ca, Ag, Ba
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Fe, Zn, Sr, Ag

In Context

Related Images

August Sander. Gymnasiast (High school student). Reproduced in August Sander and Alfred Döblin. Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (Face of: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans). Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929. The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
August Sander. Viennese Jockey (Wiener Jockei). 1929. Gelatin silver print, c. 1929. 11 3/8 x 8 1/8" (28.9 x 20.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer. © 2014 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv Köln/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Historical Publications

  • Sander, August, and Alfred Döblin. Antlitz der Zeit, pl. 40 (as Gymnasiast, 1926). Munich: Transmare Verlag AG, 1929.

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