Thu, 11 May 2000

Sander's photos capture German people, society

By Singgir Kartana

YOGYAKARTA (JP): When photographer August Sander died in 1964, he left behind thousands of priceless photographs. His works have become "social documents", precious not only as pieces of art but also as anthropological studies.

Some of Sander's photos will be on display at Cemeti Art House here from May 17 to May 26.

Menschen des 20 Jarhrhunderts (20th Century Men) is one of Sander's monumental photo-essays that will be displayed. It consists of about 500 photographs taken during Germany's most dramatic period of political and cultural change -- from the golden period of the Weimar Republic to the end of Hitler's rule.

Sander began the compilation around 1924 and stopped in 1933 due to the political crisis. He finished it in 1950.

Menschen des 20 Jarhrhunderts was designed as a photo-essay about the professions of Germans: farmer, street singer, laborer, entrepreneur, intellectual, religious leader and soldier.

All the photographs were made without optical manipulation, giving the works a documentary style. They were taken from simple angles and did not idealize the German people.

His refusal to idealize Germans landed him in trouble when the country was ruled by Hitler, who considered the Aryan race a superior one. His simple portraits were seen as an insult to the German military. During World War I and World War II, many of his works were seized and destroyed by the German government.

The exhibition can cause one to reexamine the political and cultural meanings the pictures present. Sander's works portray a truth and honesty that hold true beyond his time.

Many observers believe that now, with the prevalence of democracy, works like Menschen des 20 Jarhrhunderts cannot be copied. The photographs were taken when people's appearance and posture were very much influenced by their socioeconomic status.

The photo Kuli (Laborer), for examples, features a man of average size, wearing a jacket and vest and a scarf around his neck. His face is fresh. If he was not carrying bricks, we would not have known he was a worker.

The same can be observed in the photo titled Young Farmers, which Sanders took in 1914. The three men pictured were not working on a farm, but posed wearing white shirts and black suits, pentovel shoes, hats and carrying canes. The picture shows young Germans who liked showing off in style.

While Cologne Court Musicians portrays more modesty. The musicians were playing music when their picture was taken with the background left, as it was.

Viewers are presented with Sander's observations of Germans from various spectrums in the past: how they were dressed, how they appeared in public as the camera captured them.

August Sander was born on Nov. 17, 1876, in Herdorf, Siegerland, Germany. He became an amateur photographer at the age of 20.

In 1904, he won two photography contests in Austria and France. In the same year, he also won the Stifterpreis unter dem Hichsten Protektorate Sr Majestet des Knigs von Sachsen award. He received another award in 1961 from Bundesverdienstkreuz and a cultural award from the Deutsche Gessellschaft fur Photographie.

Sander went through difficult times before he became a professional photographer. In 1909, he worked as a wandering photographer. He also was an "esthetics" photographer--one who focused on the physical beauty of the object, which was popular in Germany in the 1930s.

Calamity struck in 1934 when the Nazis seized and destroyed his works. He was jailed on charges of producing communist- leaning photographs and pamphlets, but he remained undeterred. After his release, he continued his profession, albeit in secret.

The exhibition will also be held in Jakarta and Bandung.