An interview with Gerd Sander
Photographer and cultural heir of August Sander

by Sandro Pintus

Mr. Sander, what do you remember about your grandfather August?

"I reoember that he told me always to be myself. I also remember that he lived by a phrase by Goethe: "I keep to the following rule: I act according to my inner laws, without caring about how this may look to others or perhaps be misunderstood".

How did August Sander go about taking his portraits?

"Before he took the actual photograph, he would try to get to know the person, talk to them in order to put them at their ease and ask them a series of questions so as to understand more about them. All the people in the photos taken by my grandfather look towards an intellectual central point. This creates a direct relationship between the subject and the photographer".

Gunther and Gerhard Sander, Kuchhausen,1944

What does this exhibition try to say?

"It is not a retrospective exhibition of August Sander's work, as many people think. It is an analysis, or an "exploration", of the work carried out by my grandfather during the span of his lifetime".

How many photographs do the Sander archives contain?

"They contain about 11.000 negatives but we shouldn't forget that about 40.000 were destroyed in Cologne in a fire in 1945. We own about 4.000 prints in Cologne but there are actually about 1.200 in circulation".

Your grandfather created a document of the German society of his time but his research seems to be more an anthropological and psycological one than historical and sociological. Was he by any chance influenced by Freud?

"It really is an anthropological and psycological research but it is not an investigation into the Germans. Personally I think that, although these faces are German, he really wanted to make a document of 20th century faces in Europe. European society, the European family, the men and women of Europe and their trades. His work was not influenced by Freud but by Goethe, who was his spiritual guide for the whole of his life.

foto © August Sander Archiv/SK-Stiftung Kultur, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst,Bonn 1996.

See also:

"Photography has no shadows". An exhibition ofphotos by August Sander at Alinari
Photojournalist On Line Photojournalist On Line
Photojournalism and Photography


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