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The legacy of August Sander’s work has passed through over a century’s worth of technological change. All the while, three generations of Sander’s descendants have taken up the mantle of stewardship of his expansive archive. In photography, the picture is set upon a journey that moves from media to media. An image once existing as a reflection of light moves from glass plate and film, to the papers of books and prints, and further on to digital files. It is now on the blockchain that Sander’s photographs can find a permanent home.
Each NFT in this collection represents more than simple ownership of an image. They provide the keys to a century’s worth of knowledge carefully preserved and maintained by the photographer’s family. These are not just photographs, but codexes of information that include annotations and metadata, an accumulated knowledge that infers that pictures are not simply things to look at, but things to know. Over time, additional attributes will be included in the metadata of this collection. These NFTs will function as a living and active archive preserved for continued scholarship, appreciation, and windows into the eyes of a man who sought to preserve the truth about the world he knew.
By becoming a collector of these NFTs, you also become a steward of August Sander’s legacy, and it will be not only his family through which Sander’s work lives on, but through all of us.
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Young Girl in Circus Caravan, 1926
Circus Artist, 1926
The Man of the Soil, 1910
Young Farmers, 1926
Raoul Hausmann, 1929
August Sander was born 17 November 1876, in Herdorf near Cologne. He was the son of a carpenter working in the mining industry. Sander first learned about photography by assisting a photographer who was working for the mining company. With financial support from his uncle, he bought his first photographic equipment and started to teach himself about photography.
He spent his military service 1897–1899, as a photographer’s assistant under Georg Jung. In the following years he traveled to Berlin, Magdeburg, Halle, Leipzig and Dresden among others, working in photographic studios. In 1901, he started working for the Photographische Kunstanstalt Greif in Linz, Austria; eventually becoming its sole proprietor in 1904. He left Linz at the end of 1910 due to his son becoming ill with polio. He established a new studio in the Lindenthal neighborhood of Cologne.
In the early 1920s, Sander met regularly with the “Group of Progressive Artists” in Cologne including the very influential artists Franz W. Seiwert and Heinrich Hoerle. It was at this time that he formalized the concept for his major project, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts. In November 1927, Sander introduced his project in an exhibition in the Kölnische Kunstverein, of approximately 100 portraits. This well received exhibition led to the publishing of his first book “Antlitz der Zeit” (Face of Our Time) in 1929. The artist spent six months organizing the presentation and layout of the 60 portraits in the book; it was a preview for the larger project to be called “Menschen des 20. Jahrhundert.”
The Nazi party came to power in 1933, the book was seized in 1936 and the printing plates were destroyed. Also in 1934, August’s son Erich, who was a member of the left wing Socialist Workers’ Party, was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in 1944, shortly before the end of his sentence.
Around 1942, Sander began to leave Cologne and move to a little village in the Westerwald named Kuchhausen. From 1942 on Sander relocated the most important parts of his negative archive to Kuchhausen. His studio in Cologne was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid. Sander continued to work on his project “People of the 20th Century” throughout the rest of his life. He added to and edited his selections for the project making notes on the negative plates and in his letters to friends.
In 1951, August Sander exhibited at the Photokina in Cologne. This was initiated and supported by L. Fritz Gruber, who was a publicist and supporter of photography and an old friend of the family. In 1953, Sander was visited by Edward Steichen, who selected a number of works to be included in his exhibition, “The Family of Man,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1955.
Sander died in Cologne on 20 April 1964. His work includes landscape, nature, architecture, and street photography, but he is best known for his portraits, as exemplified in his project, “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts.”
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