German portrait and documentary photographer August Sander (b 1876 – d 1964).

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Secretary at West German Radio, Cologne

sander sisters

In the photograph, “Country Girls,” 1925, two sturdy blond girls stand stiffly before the camera holding hands and wearing identical dark dresses and watches. It seems safe to assume they are sisters, so closely do they resemble each other in appearance, expression and manner. Indeed, their similarity and closeness is as disquieting as a Diane Arbus photograph, for their dark dresses visually give the impression of one large shape with two heads emerging from it.

The two girls in this photograph face the camera in a vague imitation of traditional posing principles. Their interlocking hands provide the emotional core of the image, compensating for their inability to make eye contact with the camera and with one another.
For the final section of People of the Twentieth Century, in which this portrait is found, Sander photographed “idiots, the sick, the insane, and the dying.” Whether single figures or groups, indoors or out, these “last people” are presented in the same uncompromising way that he approached his other subjects. Remarkably, Sander never let his work devolve into a clinical exercise, but instead imbued it with a sense of engagement with and respect for his subjects. Together the photographs illuminate the cyclical nature of Sander’s project, whereby in dying one returns to the earth and so the cycle begins anew.

 

August Sander

“Documentary photography isn’t so much about the fulfillment of aesthetic rules pertaining to outer form and composition as it is about the significance of that which is portrayed.” 

“One can snap a shot or take a photograph; “to snap a shot” means reckoning with chance, and “to take a photograph” meaning working with contemplation – that is, to comprehend something, or to bring an idea from a complex to a consummate composition.”