August Sander and typologies


In photographic terms, typology refers to the grouping together of images on a particular theme, which could be anything from water towers, facial types and signposts, through to ideas, trees and indeed anything else that a photographer feels the desire to collect. Most of us have objects that we feel the need to document whenever we see them, and my own are windows, doors and abandoned farm machinery. I cannot pass an interesting example of any of these without taking a picture. It is impossible to say why I do this, but it must appeal to the inner collector within us.

Below is a very small sample from my windows collection as an example.


I have already considered the background surrounding typology in a previous post and so will move directly on to Sander and his version of the genre. However, it is worth mentioning some of the photographers who I have come across lately who work in this field, including Ed Rushka, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Gillian Wearing. Most recently, I saw a fascinating photographic installation at the Strange and Familiar exhibition at the Barbican, produced by Hans Eijkelboom, which looked at fashion typologies, Taking the idea to its logical conclusion, the Polish photographer Zofia Rydet, who died in 1995 tasked herself (inevitably unsuccessfully) with the enormous project of photographing every house in Poland.

Sander’s most famous series, People of the 20th Century was a set that he hoped would create a visual record of the elements of German society between the wars, ranging from manual workers through to the elite. One can argue at length about how successful or not he was in this venture, but the images themselves are interesting from a technical point of view, and we are asked to consider their similarities.

The subject(s) tend to be looking straight at the camera, in a serious and unsmiling way. They are carefully posed and many show elements of their work-life in the background, although often blurred out. In images where there are no background cues, the subject is often carrying something that tells the viewer his (mostly) job. The images are often beautiful, with a clear sense of the subject’s personality shining through the blandness of their expressions.

Sadly, most of Sander’s work was destroyed, either by the Nazis or in a devastating fire, but we are still able to see over 10,000 of his images, and he was clearly a prodigious worker. I have include a few of his People of the 20th Century images below, as examples.

Interestingly, to modern eyes it is often difficult to make any sensible guesses about some of the people’s professions as even the lowliest worker would often wear a suit.


Ang, T. (2014) Photography: the definitive visual history. Dorling Kindersley. pp.152-3.

3 thoughts on “August Sander and typologies

  1. Catherine

    Regarding the windows, I’m interested that, with the ones you show, the view to inside is obscured so what’s inside is hidden.
    I’m wondering how it is as well that despite Sander creating a typology the individuality of each person comes through. I wonder if he meant to do that.


    1. Holly Woodward Post author

      Yes, I’m not really interested in what is behind the windows, just the outsides. And I agree, Sander’s typologies differ from, e.g. the Bechers. But that is people for you. Everyone is slightly different.


  2. schirgwin

    Which is what is apparent to the viewer of Sander’s pictures, just as we can imagine we know what the rooms are like beyond your opaque (and excellent) windows…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s