Tag Archives: August Sander

Exercise 1.3 Portraiture typology

The brief:

In response to Sander’s work, try to create a photographic portraiture typology which attempts to bring together a collection of types. Think carefully about how you wish to classify these images; don’t make the series too literal and obvious.

Once completed, post these portraits on your blog or in your learning log, with a written statement contextualising the work.

In studying August Sander’s portraits, I found myself rather drawn to the portraits that he made of couples, such as the images of young siblings below.

Images from August Sander’s ‘Face of Our Time’
Images from August Sander’s ‘Face of Our Time’

I work at a university that is staffed by a large international population so I persuaded some of my colleagues, faculty and students to pose in pairs for me. This work is a spin-off from the Context and Narrative’s assignment 3 in which my self-portrait assignment concentrated on immigration. My only criteria was that both people in the photograph should be from the same country and that they shouldn’t smile. Locations were chosen in and outside the campus. I followed Sander’s posing methods, having my subjects stand close together in a similar fashion to the images above. I relied on natural lighting outdoors and used my flash indoors. My subjects found it rather difficult to keep a detached expression on their faces. I decided to convert all the images to black and white to further introduce some ambiguity into the images. Skin tones and hair colouring are a little misleading in black and white images. With their somewhat deadpan expressions and static poses, my subjects draw the viewer into the frame in search of something familiar he/she might recognize. I found that, by removing my subjects from their place of work i.e. desk, or classroom, and photographing them in other surroundings, their indexicality was reinforced. At the same time the two grids below depict a microcosm of the multiculturalism that exists in Vancouver.

My ethnicity typologies in Vancouver are below.

 

The individual photos can be accessed below.

Zimbabwean
Zimbabwean
Peruvian
Peruvian
Korean
Korean
German
German
Indian
Indian
Mexican
Mexican

 

Bibliography

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg

Jeffrey, Ian (2008) How to Read a Photograph | Lessons from Master Photographers. New York: Abrams

Kozloff, M. (2007) The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900. London: Phaidon Press

Images

Beth (2012). Photographic Typologies: The Study of Types [online]. Redbubble Blog. Available at: http://blog.redbubble.com/2012/04/photographic-typologies-the-study-of-types/ [Accessed 7 June, 2016]

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Exercise 1.2 Background as context

August Sander was born in a small town, Herdorf, just north of the Westerwald area, where a large body of his photographic work was done. In the early 1920’s he adopted a detached approach to his portraits, a style which was quite favoured by the European New Objectivity artists.

The Sage by August Sander © 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY
The Sage by August Sander
© 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

He had a set methodology to his photography making. He would photograph his subjects in sharp focus, like one would architecture, in full or half length. He posed them with props or articles of their professions to provide some context to what they did for a living. His subjects would face the camera directly showing no emotion. Apparently a show of emotion was frowned upon, indicating that the sitter was distracted or did not have sufficient self control. Sander tended to place his subjects in the centre of the frame.

Most often, when shooting outdoors, the background was in soft focus, sometimes sufficiently blurred to render it unrecognizable as can be seen in The Sage above and further providing depth to the image. In this portrait Sander has chosen to crop in close to the subject’s face and focus on the old man’s distinctive features. The background is quite far from the subject. The soft focus of the background only serves to enhance his character lines around his eyes more strongly. Although the subject has a dispassionate look, there is a still look of understanding and wisdom in the old man’s eyes. We see that the Sage’s smock is coarsely woven and rather dirty, while his felt hat sits rather crumpled upon his head, a further indication of his humble profession. Jeffrey (2008 p.74) describes an interesting back story to this photo:

“… Sander recalled a herdsman from his childhood who took the village cattle … into the forest in springtime to graze. This happened on a daily basis. Children took food to him at midday and he told them stories and spoke about the forest and its plants. He had a reputation as a wizard. This man probably reminded Sander of that herdsman of his childhood.”

Itinerant Mason by August Sander © 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY
Itinerant Mason by August Sander
© 2016 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

In contrast, Sander shows the Itinerant Mason in full length, standing next to a pile of rocks, indicating his trade to the viewer. The mason is dressed rather incongruously for a labourer as he is wearing a bowler hat, light coloured trousers and a vest, complete with a fancy chain, over a working shirt, topped off with a warm jacket. A bag of some sort is slung over his shoulder, probably containing his tools, while he carries a roughly hewn walking stick in his other hand. Scuffed boots round up the outfit. We might presume that the photograph was taken on a Sunday when the subject was wearing his best clothes. The mason stares solidly out at the photographer or us, the viewers, his face devoid of any expression, almost like a mask. The road he is traveling along is lined with trees and curves off to the right behind him, suggesting that he might still have a way to travel on his journey. Although the background in this photograph is slightly blurred, it is still very distinctive and provides the viewer with more than sufficient information to realise that this is a man on a journey.

Another of Sander’s tropes was the way in which he had his subjects pose with their hands. Very often men would put a hand in their pocket, or pose with a hand on their stomach tucked under a jacket, Napoleon style, or keep their hands out of sight totally – the majority of them looking rather contrived and uncomfortable. In my opinion, Sander’s most successful portraits are those where the men, in particular, have been allowed to pose with both hands visible, albeit on different levels.

Reference List

Jeffrey, Ian (2008). How to Read a Photograph. New York: Abrams.

Bibliography

Angier, Roswell (2015). Train Your Gaze | A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography. London: Bloomsbury

Warner Marien, Mary (2014) Photography: A Cultural History. London: Laurence King Publishing