August Sander (1876-1964) was a German photographer, known for his portraits. This book presents a selection of images of people who were either persecuted or where persecutors during the Nazi regime, 1933-1945.
Grounded in the documentary style positions this work as faithful to reality and thus a subject of examination and interpretation. The logic supporting this assertion builds from the viewer’s inherent trust in the exactness of the photograph; that a photograph captures in detail what it sees and in doing so is assumed unbiased. Sander positions the subjects as ‘types’ rather than individuals; a generalization of what they represent: a farmer, a baker, a soldier, etc. This tactic engenders the sense of a scientific inquiry; the abstraction offers distance from the details of the individual, presenting us with a path to develop a group perspective. Yet he remains respectful of the individual and avoids imposing preconceived notions or tropes allowing them to speak for themselves. Each picture is posed, yet surprisingly, the subjects do not appear stiff; each one is engaging in their own way and with this a viewer-subject relationship is framed. I suspect it has to do with the eye contact. Combining the two perspectives allows us to blend the information and perceptions from the two dimensions, contextualising our interpretations of the individual and developing greater depth of the group.
The juxtaposition of the persecuted and persecutor offers two ends of the spectrum in a heinous transaction, spawning another dimension of comparison. It takes the individuals and groups we have normalized and recasts them into these roles. An arresting transformation that raises many questions including how and why. While not presented as a grid, such as in the topographical works of Bernd and Hilla Becher, the sequencing does permit comparison, but with a sense of distance between the two, giving us room to assimilate what we are seeing
Situated in the early to mid 20th Century, these photographs cause us to recall the events of the period; the Shoah. As those directly involved in those events pass away, the memories that persist are no longer ours, but those passed on by previous generations, what Marianne Hirsch calls “postmemory”. As secondary artifacts, they are duller, less visceral, less meaningful, less impactful. The importance of a work like this is to restore in part the humanity in those memories. To allow them to fade is to permit the recurrence of those events and thus to remember is not simply a responsibility, it is a moral or ethical act.
August Sander: Persecuted / Persecutors: People of the 20th Century
Hardcover – Jul 24 2018
by Barbara Becker-Jákli (Author), Gabriele Betancourt (Author), Johann Chapoutot (Author), Alfred Döblin (Author), August Sander (Photographer)
Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Steidl/Shoah Memorial/August Sander Foundation; Multilingual edition (July 24 2018)
Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 3.2 x 30.5 cm