The long life of German photographer August Sander (1876–1964) spanned one of the most turbulent eras in his country's history. The Great War of 1914–1918, the Weimar Republic, the reign of National Socialism, and the horrors of World War II all left an indelible imprint on both the man and his work. Sander, a conventional studio portraitist who transformed himself into an avant-gardist, exemplified the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of his time. He was at once innovative and deeply wedded to the past, blending a progressive vision with a traditional view of society and his craft.
The approximately fifty plates featured in In Focus: August Sander are some of the most striking from the J. Paul Getty Museum's more than twelve hundred pictures by the artist. They include images of rural dwellers such as in Young Farmers and Farm Girls, and other portraits including Wife of the Cologne Painter Peter Abelen, Parliamentarian and the poignant Blind Children, Düren. A chronological overview of Sander's life provides a factual framework for this discussion.
Commentary about the images is provided by Claudia Bohn-Spector, an independent scholar and curator. Joining her in this discussion of Sander's career are artist Hilla Becher; Gabriele Conrath-Scholl, Sander Archive, Cologne; David Featherstone, independent editor and curator; Sander Gilman, professor of Germanic studies, University of Chicago; Ulrich Keller, professor of art history, University of California at Santa Barbara; Weston Naef, curator emeritus of photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum; and Joan Weinstein, senior program officer at the Getty Foundation.