BA Phot

I&P Part 1 - Exercise 2

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Project 1, Historic photographic portraiture - Exc 1.1 - Project 1.2 Typologies - Exc 1.2 - Exc 1.3 - Exc 1.4 - Conclusion - Upsum

New online course material - Exc. N1 - Exc. N2 - Exc. N3 - Exc. N4 - Exc. N5 - Exc. N6 - Exc. N7
Spence and Martin portrait analysis - Bate, five elements

Arbus - Bellocq - Bey - Bird - Callahan - Cameron - Campt - Cohen - Evans - Fiskin - Hardman - Höfer - Hoppé - Huebler - Mapplethorpe - Medley - Mertin - Nadar - Sander - Schmid - Zaidi -

interpretation - Reflective Writing - Square Mile - Standard Six - Surface - Typologies - text - text

Preamble - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Asg.1 - Asg.2 - Asg.3 - Asg.4 - Asg.5 - C&N - EyV

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Background as context

Photographs - Analysis - Conclusion - DIY

Study Sander’s portraits in very close detail, making notes as you go.

Look at how his subjects are positioned in relation to each other or their environment. Are they facing the camera or looking away? What, if any, props does Sander use? Do these props seem relevant or are they strange? What physical stance does the subject adopt?

Detail was extremely important to August Sander and the background in his portraits was never left to chance. Study the backgrounds of Sander’s portraits very closely and reflect upon what you see. Where does the subject sit in relation to the background? If location-based, does the head sit above or below the horizon? Has the background been deliberately blurred through the use of a wider aperture and therefore shorter depth of field? Does the background offer any meaning or context to the portrait?

Make a portrait of someone you know, paying very close attention to what is happening in the background of the shot. Be very particular about how you pose the subject and what you choose to include in the photograph. Ideally, the background should tell the viewer something about the subject being photographed.

Reflect upon how successful this project was in your learning log or blog. I&P p.26


[p.26, Np.41]
The online version of the course material is very similar to the extract, but it does introduce David Bate's elements of a portrait: curiously it does not cite a reference — it is first introduced in Bate (2016) p.89 and then elaborated over pp.90-97.
There are 4+1 elements, face, pose, clothing, location plus props.

Face - personal appearance, facial expression
Pose - attitude, "upbringing"
Clothing - social class, sex / gender, cultural values
Location - social setting
Props - objects signifying status


August Sander
b: 1876, Rhine Province
d: 1964 Cologne
Tate - Wikipedia

[20Aug20 I&P p.26] Sander's fortunes, financial, reputational and photographic, fluctuated throughout his life. Born the son of a carpenter at a German iron mine who also ran a smallholding, Sander (as was normal for local children) worked part time on the mine's slag heap when not at school (Hacking, 2012, p.243). Nevertheless, after assisting a photographer at the mine (possibly Heinrich Schmeck, ibid) had triggered his interest, with the help of his father and uncle, Sander bought a '13x8cm camera, an Aplanat lens and a tripod' (ibid.) and built a darkroom on the family's farm.

Sander
View from the Wolkenburg, 1934
© the estate of August Sander

After national service, Sander moved to Linz in Austria got a job in a photographic studio, taking ownership in 1902, the year he married Anna. Over the next few years, he built his reputation, mostly with landscape photographs and in 1909 he sold the Linz studio and a while later opened another in Cologne. Although his work was recognised, his studio was not busy and he travelled the surrounding area by bicycle seeking clients for portraits (ibid. p 244). This, Hacking suggests, was where his great series began. Interrupted by conscription in WW1 (during which Anna kept the portrait business going), after the war, he continued gathering his collection of portraits and in 1927 exhibited People of the 20th Century in Cologne. This led to his 1929 book Face of Our Time, of which more later.

Sander's portraits did not find favour with the Nazi party, whose influence and then control was growing (this was not helped by his son Erich's anti-Nazi political activity, for which he was arrested and later died in prison) and copies of the book and the printing plates were destroyed. During WW2, Sander lost his studio in a bombing raid and in 1946 most of his print and negative archive to a fire.

Sander
Studies: Man
collage c. 1935
© the estate of August Sander

After the war, Sander turned back to landscapes and also started a new project, studies of parts of the body, some cropped from his earlier portraits. He maintained his reputation through participating in exhibitions and this was boosted in 1952 by a visit from Edward Steichen who acquired some prints that later appeared in the famous Family of Man exhibition of 1955. Sander died in 1964 following a stroke.

Returning to the portrait series, the main subject of this essay, by the time of the 1927 exhibition, Sander had formulated his seven categories of person, translated in Stepan (2008, p. 53) as

The Farmer, The Artisan, The Women, The Estates [Classes and Professions], The Artists, The Big City, The Last Men.

Stepan suggests (although the connection is not apparent) that this was based on,

a then-popular doctrine of temperaments, in which people were classified as earthbound, philosophical, impetuous/revolutionary or wise. However he did not pursue this in his portfolios … Stepan, p.53

Sander adopted a new aesthetic for the portrait series: for his earlier landscapes and portraits, he had gone along with the pictorialist tradition of manipulating the negative for a more painterly effect, but his new approach is described by Jeffrey (2008, p. 74) as printing 'portraits in the manner previously reserved for architecture - where clarity was at a premium'. This was aligned to the New Objectivity movement .

In a 1927 essay (published in Johnson, 2004, p. 144) Sander announced the portraits project and his approach,

photography … can reproduce things with impressive beauty, or even with cruel accuracy, but it can also be outrageously deceptive … we should pass down to our fellow men and to posterity [a view of] things as they are and not as they should or could be …I hate nothing more that sugary photographs with tricks, poses and effects. So allow me to be honest and tell the truth about our age and its people. Sander, 1927 in Johnson (2004) p. 144

The book showed 60 portraits, from various categories, made between 1910 and 1928. Jeffrey (ibid. p.78) states (without providing citations for his quotations, but presumably they come from Sander) that the intention for the project overall was to,

start from the earthbound man and woman (peasant farmers from the Westerwald), and then proceed by degrees to 'the highest peak of civilisation' and then 'downward according to the most subtle classifications to the idiot'. Jeffrey, 2008, p.78

Photographs

Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time Sander, from Face of Our Time
Figs. 1-60 from Face of Our Time, 1929
© the estate of August Sander

I have found it difficult to apply Sander's categories these to some of the portraits and so I have used my equivalents:

rural, worker, female, middle class, artist, manager, outsider and an additional category, child

My edition of the book (Sander, 2003) has supplementary information that helps with this, for example, image #9 is titles Prizewinners, 1927, but the book adds, "Prizewinners from a country choral society", enabling the classification of rural.
Some classifications remain difficult:
#25 The Revolutionaries include Erich Müsham, according to Wikipedia, 'German-Jewish antimilitarist anarchist essayist, poet and playwright' — an evaluation of 'middle class' seems hardly sufficient.
#26 The age of the students is difficult to judge. They include Sander's son, Erich on the left born in 1903 and so in his early 20s. Thus class = mid.
#31 The title in the book is Young Mother, Middle-class. I have used class = female rather than middle class.
#38 Title Young Businessman, hardly a captain of industry (unlike #45), but class = manager.
#59 and #60 Titles Redundant Seaman and Unemployed. Class = worker.


Analysis

The abbreviations and meanings used in the table are:
Category: mid = middle class; mng = manager
Format: P = portrait format; L = landscape format.
Count: the number of people in the photograph including babies.
Posture: sit = sitting; stand = standing (obvs.); mix = >1 subjects in >1 postures; lean = leaning; nk = cannot tell; side = the subject is positioned side-on to the camera; * = the subject is not looking at the camera.
Length: FL = full length; 3Q = three-quarter length; HS = head and shoulders; WU = waist-up. A plus or minus sign qualifies the length, so FL- might mean the feet are not seen, HS+ might extend to the chest. This is an inexact judgment, at some point 3Q+ meets FL-.
Background: o/f = it looks as though the background is purposely and purposefully out of focus; ext/int = external/internal. Note that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether it is an exterior or interior photograph.

The exercise asks,

Look at how his subjects are positioned in relation to each other or their environment. Are they facing the camera or looking away? What, if any, props does Sander use? Do these props seem relevant or are they strange? What physical stance does the subject adopt?
… the background in his portraits was never left to chance . Study the backgrounds of Sander’s portraits very closely and reflect upon what you see. Where does the subject sit in relation to the background? If location-based, does the head sit above or below the horizon? Has the background been deliberately blurred through the use of a wider aperture and therefore shorter depth of field? Does the background offer any meaning or context to the portrait? I&P p.26

I do not think that this assertion is supported by an examination of the images. It is certainly true of some of the better-known subjects, such as #16 Pastrycook and it is noticeable, for example, in #44 Doctor and #45 Industrialist, but at least 15 of the 60 photographs have a nondescript nearby wall as background, sometimes light, sometimes dark. In some of these the subject's shadow is faintly discernible, indicating proximity.

Non-æsthetic, purely numerical and statistical analyses of the image reveal:

Sander's usage of backgrounds and horizons in some images are worth noting.

Sander Sander Sander Sander Sander Sander Sander Sander

#2 Shepherd 1913
#4 Westerwald Farming Couple, 1912
#6 Young Farmers [Westerwald, ca. 1914]
#31 Young Mother, Middle-class [Cologne, 1927/28]
#36 Customs Officials [Hamburg, 1929]
#38 The Young Businessman
#44 The Doctor [Prof. Schleyer, Berlin, ca. 1928]
#46 Tycoon [Kommerzienrat A. von Gillaume. Cologne, 1928]
© the estate of August Sander

The defocussed backgrounds of #2 and #31 enhance the image by emphasising the subject, while indicating their environment. This contrasts with #4 where the trees are a distraction and # 36 where the obtrusive archway and patches of light in the background draw attention away from the subject. #6 is perhaps the best example in the book of Sander's use of the horizon, which pulls the viewer's gaze to the farmers' faces: Hacking (2012, p.301) writes of this and also the farmers' dirty boots which detract from the dapper images they are trying to convey and 'reveal their farming roots'.

Of the indoor portraits, #44 and #46 are cases of defocussed interior detail, the large bottles conjuring the notion of medical research with the doctor and the elaborate door and wall decoration behind the tycoon denoting opulence. The contrast to be drawn here is with #38, one of the plain backgrounds with a hint of shadow, mentioned above.

The Tycoon #46 deserves further attention because it is a true outlier within the book with the subject seated and facing away from the camera.

No. Subject Category Format Count Posture Length Background
1 Farmer rural P 1 sit 3Q o/f interior
2 Shepherd rural P 1 nk HS+ o/f exterior
3 Farming woman rural P 1 sit 3Q o/f interior
4 Farming couple rural P 2 mix FL- trees
5 Three generations rural L 5 sit FL- trees
6 Young farmers rural P 3 stand FL o/f exterior
7 Country girls rural P 2 stand  FL o/f exterior
8 Bride and groom rural P 2 stand FL- wall + tree
9 Prizewinners rural P 5 stand FL o/f exterior
10 Landowner rural P 2 stand FL trees
11 Teacher mid P 1 stand 3Q o/f exterior
12 Citizens mid L 2 sit * 3Q garden wall
13 Boxers worker P 2 stand FL interior wall
14 Locksmith worker P 1 stand 3Q wall 
15 Interior decorator worker P 1 sit 3Q o/f interior
16 Pastrycook worker P 1 stand FL kitchen
17 Mother and daughter female P 2 mix FL- o/f exterior
18 Proletarian children children L 4 stand FL garden  
19 Worker's family worker L 9 mix FL o/f exterior
20 Proletarian mother female P 2 stand 3Q doorway
21 Coalman worker P 1 stand FL doorway
22 Workers' Council worker L 6 stand FL urban exterior
23 Odd-job man worker P 1 stand 3Q dark
24 Communist leader worker P 1 stand 3Q wall
25 Revolutionaries mid * P 3 sit FL exterior wall
26 Students mid * L 4 sit 3Q interior wall
27 Herbalist mid P 1 sit 3Q interior wall
28 Clergyman mid P 1 lean 3Q interior wall
29 Clergyman plus mid P 12 stand 3Q exterior wall
30 Family mid P 3 stand FL exterior
31 Young mother female * L 2 sit FL  o/f exterior
32 Child child P 1 sit FL interior wall
33 Youth leader mid P 1 nk, side HS interior wall
34 Postman work P 1 stand 3Q wall
35 Policeman work P 1 stand 3Q wall
36 Customs Officers work P 2 stand FL ext. archway
37 Engineer mid P 1 sit 3Q wall
38 Businessman mng * P 1 stand 3Q wall
39 Schoolgirl child P 1 sit 3Q interior wall
40 Schoolboy child P 1 stand 3Q wall
41 Duellist child P 1 stand  HS+ wall
42 MP mid P 1 stand 3Q wall
43 Art scholar artist P 1 sit FL- panelled wall
44 Doctor mid P 1 stand 3Q o/f medical equ.
45 Industrialist mng P 1 sit WU o/f interior wall
46 Tycoon mng P 1 sit, side FL- o/f interior door
47 Merchant mid P 2 stand WU- dark wall
48 Professional mid P 2 sit 3Q interior wall
49 Architect artist P 1 sit * 3Q dark wall
50 Painter artist P 1 sit 3Q interior wall
51 Sculptress artist P 1 sit * 3Q interior wall
52 Composer artist P 1 sit 3Q interior wall
53 Pianist artist P 1 stand FL o/f interior
54 Writer artist P 1 sit 3Q interior wall
55 Tenor artist P 1 sit * 3Q interior wall
56 Bohemians artisan P 2 sit, side 3Q interior wall
57 Barman artist P 1 sit HS+ interior wall
58 Cleaner artist P 1 sit 3Q interior wall
59 Seaman work * P 1 stand FL ext. bridge
60 Unemployed work * P 1 nk, side 3Q ext. wall

The New Objectivity movement is described by Emma Lewis (2017, pp. 60-61) as,

an approach by artists and writers in Germany, characterised by its impulse to depict the modern world as it is, without romanticism or artistic effect. In photography, this meant harnessing the camera's ability to capture the subject with absolute precision. Lewis, 2017, pp. 60-61)

Lewis names its original and principal exponents as Albert Renger-Patzsch with his still lifes, then Aenne Biermann and Karl Blossfeldt (mentioned in the cmat re. typology). She notes Sander's adoption of the approach and that the Weimar Republic ended the movement but not before its influence had spread abroad to catalyse the New Vision and Modernism.


Conclusion

There is no denying Sander's abilities as a photographer, both in landscape and in portraits. That said, while his portraits might have been revolutionary in their time, 90 years ago, and Sander's contribution might have been instrumental in introducing objectivity to portraiture, many of the images in Face of Our Time now seem unremarkable. There are some great photographs in the group that remain rightly famous, notably Young Farmers and Pastrycook, and Sander was a key figure in the development of the craft.

Regarding backgrounds, Sander's are not particularly remarkable. He sometimes uses defocussed backgrounds effectively: he often uses plain backgrounds that are bland, when compared to Avedon's stark white backgrounds that isolate and emphasise the subject and the exaggerated angles of Penn's eccentric grey corner sets.


I&P Exc 1.2 References

artnet.com (n.d.) August Sander [online]. artnet.com. Available from http://www.artnet.com/artists/august-sander/ [Accessed 20 August 2020].

famousphotographers.net (n.d.) August Sander [online]. famousphotographers.net. Available from https://www.famousphotographers.net/august-sander [Accessed 20 August 2020].

Hacking, J (2012) Lives of the great photographers. London: Thames & Hudson.

Jeffrey, I. (2008) How to read a photograph. Jeffrey London: Thames & Hudson.

Johnson, B. (ed.) (2004) Photography speaks: 150 photographers on their art. New York: Aperture Foundation.

Lange, S. (2019) August Sander. London: Thames & Hudson.

Lewis, E. (2017) ...isms: understanding photography. Brighton: Iqon editions.

moma.org (n.d.) August Sander [online]. moma.org. Available from https://www.moma.org/artists/5145 [Accessed 20 August 2020].

Sander, A (2003) August Sander, Face of Our Time. Köln: Schirmer.

Stepan, P. (2008) 50 Photographers you should know. Munich: Prestel.

tate.org.uk (n.d.) August Sander [online]. tate.org.uk. Available from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/august-sander-5319 [Accessed 20 August 2020].

Wikipedia (2020) Erich Mühsam [online]. wikipedia.org. Available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_M%C3%BChsam [Accessed 20 August 2020].


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