August Sander: People of the 20th Century

A milestone in the history of modern art, People of the 20th Century presents the ultimate expression of German photographer August Sander's life's work: a monumental undertaking to collect an archive of 20th-century humanity through a cross-section of German culture.

August Sander, who came from a modest family of German descent, is remembered as one of the 20th century's most profound and structured portrait photographers. After his early experiments with the camera, his attention focused on the faces and bodies that animated the Germany in which he lived, that of the 1920s. He photographs subjects from all walks of life, capturing bankers and boxers, soldiers and circus performers, peasants and families, to create a catalog of the German people, organized by profession, gender and social status. He then organizes this ponderous fund of photos into seven main categories: Farmers, Skilled Craftsmen, Women, Classes and Professions, Artists, Cities, and a final category, the Last, which includes frail people, people with disabilities, pilgrims and wayfarers, and even corpses. Sander's images are concrete. They straddle the line between art and non-art, between representation and documentation. He captures his subjects-from bourgeois children to the homeless-with little room for ambiguity or even aesthetic contemplation, either in situ or on neutral backgrounds.

Sander initiated the project in the 1920s and continued it for more than fifty years, in a politically tumultuous and rapidly changing era marked by two world wars and the devastating repercussions of Nazism. He never finished his magnum opus, consisting of seven volumes and forty-nine portfolios, but continually refined and shaped it so that it conveyed an understanding of the world in which he lived. The photographs, remarkable for their stark realism and deft analysis of the characters portrayed, provide a powerful social portrait of interwar Germany and constitute one of the most influential achievements of the 20th century.

What flows from this arduous work is more than a picture book, People of the 20th Century is a training manual, a black-and-white transposition of kaleidoscopic human reality that guides one's understanding of an era and of History more generally. Sander's first publication, The Face of Our Time (1929), which is a selection from his larger ongoing project, was confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis in 1936. Despite the regime's adversity, Sander continued the project for another two decades, until 1944 when his studio was completely destroyed in a bombing raid. In the last decades of his life, he devoted himself to landscapes and died in Cologne in 1964.

Now available again, People of the 20th Century brings together the exquisite reproductions and main texts from the long-defunct seven-volume edition. This comprehensive edition, with 619 photographs, offers the most complete attestation of Sander's still fundamental vision.


To purchase the book click here: August Sander. People of the 20th Century, Aperture, 2022


Other August Sander titles available in our catalog: 

*August Sander. Menschen Ohne Maske. 

*August Sander. "Photography Has No Dark Shadows! 

*Aperture Masters of Photography. August Sander.