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mumok APPetizer – August Sander

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August Sander

The “Junior Boss,” as this photograph is called, is cleverly composed. The young man is standing on the right, while the left half is an empty indeterminate space into which he is staring. He is not looking at the camera but into the distance. His clothing is tasteful but not extravagant. With his overcoat, hat, and leather gloves he is dressed to be outside and not for the interior in which he is standing. He is not shown at work, at his desk or in a factory hall, and we do not know what he is the boss of. He is leaning his hands on a walking stick in front of him. Does he really need this or is it just a stylish accessory? His posture, his clothing like armor around his body, and his gaze into the distance are all saying that he is confident and has authority, and every detail serves to depict him as fulfilling his professional and social role. How would we imagine such a junior boss today?

August Sander is seen as the founder of objective and conceptual documentary photography in the Weimar Republic. His major work is a portfolio of portrait photographs entitled “People of the 20th Century.” In the style of New Objectivity, without any decoration or ornament, this “atlas” is a panorama of the lives of people from different professions and social groups. Sander divided them into categories: the farmers, the artisans, the women, the guilds, the artists, the city, the last people. Looking at these photographs one after another, it becomes clear how the postures, facial expressions and gestures of these people repeat themselves. Their intensity makes them into ideal representatives of the different professions and social classes. But Sander’s ways of depicting and categorizing them is not uncontroversial, as it follows a very clear concept that shows “who these people are.” At the latest in the Nazi period, this physiognomic gaze turned into a blatantly racist perspective that sorted people into types, and divided them out, with fatal consequences. In this context, Sander’s last group is particularly problematic. These are photographs of the sick, of the mentally disabled, and of dead bodies. Ultimately, this again raises the question of the relationship between the picture and reality, just as in our world today. What consequences do we draw from images, how far do we allow them to influence us or ourselves to fall under their spell?