August Sander: Masterpieces – Photographs from “People of the 20th Century”

Exhibition is featuring over 150 original photographs | Press tour on Wednesday, 5 September at 11 a.m.

August Sander: Masterpieces - Photographs from "People of the 20th Century"

August Sander: Young Farmers, 1914 (Source: © Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur)

Press tour: Wednesday, 5 September at 11 a.m. (Please register for the press by sending an informal e-mail to

Opening and award ceremony for Francesco Neri: Thursday, 6 September, 7 p.m.
The exhibition will be on view from 7 September 2018 to 27 January 2019.

The current exhibition, featuring over 150 original photographs and numerous documents shown in display cases, presents a representative cross-section of the “People of the 20th Century” project.

The portraits from August Sander”s epochal work are not only of fundamental importance for the history of photography; they are also highly exciting objects of study – masterpieces for anyone who has an unsentimental, unbiased love of people and life; who likes to ask questions about the past and gather experiences for the future; who has a passion for looking, discovering, fantasizing, and analyzing: How do the people portrayed appear to us today? How did they spend their lives? What delighted or shocked them? What experiences left a mark on their faces, their hands, their physiognomy? What can they share with us from their own bygone world and times? How did Sander manage to meet and talk to so many different people, and to entice them into posing for a picture? What does the photographic material convey to us today – at a time when hardly any photographs are developed in the darkroom anymore and a kind of magic has thus been lost? What does time and manual craft mean for artistic engagement?

Viewed together, the people August Sander (1876-1964) depicted in such an objective yet dignified and personal manner unfold a whole cosmos that brings history to life. Looking at Sander”s photographs challenges us to search for similarities, differences, and comparable qualities. They summon memories of accounts from the past, render tangible transformations in people”s living conditions and way of life; we see occupations that have changed, which no longer exist or have been replaced; developments or events in society are made more vivid to us, as are changing pictorial styles and artistic aesthetics.

And yet apart from the referential character of Sander”s photographs, their historical relevance and inspirational force, qualities that have been highlighted by renowned authors such as Walter Benjamin, Alfred Döblin, Golo Mann, and Kurt Tucholsky, the pictures depict very concrete moments and display individually a remarkable degree of aesthetic quality. They compellingly demonstrate Sander”s knack at capturing reality and his eye for composing specific details into lifelike documentary photographs. Being able to experience this quality up close based on August Sander”s original handmade prints is a real privilege and something that can only be made possible on this scale in rare cases due to the conservation requirements of these so-called vintage prints.

August Sander first presented his project “People of the 20th Century” in 1927 at the Kölnischer Kunstverein. He had selected more than 110 prints, a group that, as far as can be reconstructed, largely diverges from the current presentation, let alone the fact that several different prints of individual motifs were and are in circulation. Since Sander developed the project or – as he called it – his cultural work “People of the 20th Century” between circa 1925 and 1955, i.e., over the course of three decades, also incorporating motifs he had produced from 1892 onwards, his stock of original prints and portfolios had grown immensely by the end of his life. Within his archive, this group of works forms a kind of cache from which the photographer drew freely for exhibitions and publications. This was a uniquely innovative approach in his day. Sander”s awareness of the exponential effect of image series as opposed to individual images made him a pioneer of conceptual photography, as did his resolute use of an unmanipulated, factual reproduction of his chosen motifs. His portraits were meant to underline his documentary approach and to do without any artistic embellishments while nonetheless manifesting a fine-tuned and restrained design.

Sander endeavored with his extensive portrait work to show a cross-section of the population, including people practicing different occupations and from various walks of life and generations – a mirror of his times. This intention is echoed in the title of his first book, Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), published in 1929. The indirectly expressed face of the time as well as individual physiognomies were the focus of the photographer”s undivided attention for decades.

To give form to his growing compendium, Sander created a concept in the mid-1920s for naming most of the image groups and portfolios that were at the center of his work. The groups are called: “The Farmer,” “The Skilled Tradesman,” “The Woman,” “Classes and Professions,” “The Artists,” “The City,” and “The Last People.” The latter, perhaps misleading, term stands for a series of pictures that respectfully show people on the fringes of society. Sander”s concept at the time, which proposed a sequential arrangement of groups and portfolios, is also followed in the current exhibition, drawing on single images or groups of representative prints from the corresponding portfolios.

Most of the photographs come from the August Sander Archive, which Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur acquired in 1992, thus laying the cornerstone for the Cologne photography collection”s further development. These works from the archive are joined in the show by exclusive loans of originals from the Berlinische Galerie, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Berlin; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, as well as from major private collections.

Accompanying the exhibition is the catalogue August Sander – Meisterwerke/Masterpieces, published in German and English by the Schirmer/Mosel Verlag. This is the first publication on the photographer to feature original prints reproduced in their authentic tonality and with original cropping. Digital data obtained by scanning the originals were coordinated according to many different factors and then printed in four colors. Gabriele Conrath-Scholl has written a catalogue essay that explores in depth how “People of the 20th Century” developed over time, adding a new chapter to the discourse on August Sander”s oeuvre, which has played a central role in the program of the Munich publishing house ever since it published Sander”s “Rheinlandschaften” in 1975, followed by numerous additional titles.

Also on view:

A Look at the Collection: Hugo Erfurth – Pictures
An exhibition presented by Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur and the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn, in Room 2

Most of the portraits that survive from the studio of Hugo Erfurth (1874-1948) hark back in style to the era of art photography. This artistically motivated photographic approach, also known as Pictorialism, flourished at the end of the 19th century until around 1914. The photographers aimed to create exquisitely designed compositions, which were further refined using special manual and technical interventions. High-quality and extremely elaborate printing processes were used, allowing the photographer to apply painterly touches. Borrowing from painting in this way helped give the photographs a more exalted appearance, an impression further enhanced by printing them as large pictures to hang on the wall. The expressive motifs given such lofty treatment were imbued with symbolism and emotion – sometimes verging on the melodramatic. Prominent figures in society were honored with fine photographic prints, or such pictures would be commissioned for special occasions. With the advent of new technical possibilities for the medium in the 1920s and a return to pure documentary photography, the techniques of Pictorialism declined in popularity.

Regardless of the latest trends, however, Hugo Erfurth persisted in producing most of his motifs as art prints. He was particularly adept at the oil printing process, and his studio turned out some truly exquisite pieces. After initially focusing on genre photography and landscape, Erfurth increasingly specialized in portraits, at first primarily of family members. After acquiring and moving into the palace of Count Lüttichau in the center of Dresden in 1906, Erfurth”s studio developed into a prestigious focal point of the city”s cultural life. His portrait clients included nobles and members of bourgeois society and the military, as well as artists. The present exhibition includes engaging portraits of Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, and Richard Riemerschmid. Interestingly enough, some of these figures also posed for August Sander – resulting in likenesses of a very different kind. While Sander had also produced work indebted to the ideas of art photography, after the First World War he increasingly turned away from that style in his independent artistic work. Only relatively few, but nonetheless enlightening, examples of photographs by him in this mode survive today.

The exhibition devoted to Hugo Erfurth is a continuation of the cooperation launched in 2018 between the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn and Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne. The photographs on display come from the holdings of both institutions, supplemented by loans from the Deutsche Fotothek Dresden. A booklet with a text by Adelheid Komenda will be published for the show.

2018 August Sander Award-Winner:
Francesco Neri – Farmers, Photographs from 2009-2018
(Rooms 3 and 4)

The first winner of the August Sander Award, launched in 2018, will be the subject of a special exhibition. Francesco Neri (b. 1982) is presenting the series that impressed the jury: “Farmers.” Born in the town of Faenza in northern Italy, the artist began producing a photographic account of rural agricultural life in his home region in 2009, centering mostly on portraiture. His project gave rise to sensitive and yet plainly documentary portraits of farmers, whom Neri photographed in the settings where they live and work. Most of the pictures were taken outdoors in a garden or field, sometimes with a house or farmyard visible in the background. The atmosphere is shaped by restrained colors and light, putting the individuals at the center of the composition. They look out at the viewer with open gazes, without any exaggerated poses or evident shyness in front of the camera.

The show comprises 70 photographs, most of them making their debut here and some being exhibited together for the first time. Francesco Neri, who studied at the Ravenna Art Academy with Guido Guidi, displays his pictures as contact prints, taken either with black-and-white or color film. The prints measure 8 x 10 inches, or approx. 20 x 25 cm, and are produced using a large-format camera.
A booklet with a text by Claudia Schubert accompanies the exhibition.

The August Sander Award was established in 2018 and is sponsored by Ulla Bartenbach and Prof. Dr. Kurt Bartenbach in cooperation with Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur. The prize for contemporary photography, endowed with 5,000 euros, will be awarded every two years to artists up to 40 years of age who have demonstrated special merit in the field of documentary portraiture.

Press enquiries: tel: +49 221 88895 105, email:

Press photos for the exhibitions can be found in the press area of the SK Stiftung Kultur website under the direct link:

Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Im Mediapark 7, 50670 Cologne, tel.: +49 221/888 95 300, email:,
Current exhibitions are open daily except Wednesdays from 2 to 7 p.m.

Admission: EUR5.50 (reduced EUR3), free the first Monday of the month!
Regular guided tours every Sunday at 3 p.m., cost: regular admission + EUR2 for the tour

Extended opening hours during the festival weekend for “Internationale Photoszene Köln” ( Friday, 28 September from 2 to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 29/30 September, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The exhibitions will be closed on 1 November (All Saints” Day), from 24 to 26 December, on 31 December 2018, and on 1 January 2019.

With its collection, the scholarly maintenance of its holdings, its research projects, and its exhibitions, all of which center around objective, documentary photography, Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur contributes to a wide range of regional, national, and international artistic and cultural offerings.The institution”s collection comprises more than 30,000 works by historical and contemporary photographers of various nationalities. A significant share of these-more than 10,500 negatives and 5,500 original prints-is part of the August Sander Archive, followed by negatives and prints from important series by the artist couple Bernd and Hilla Becher. These two photographic stances, are since 1992 and 1996, in terms of style and content decisive for the further development of the collection.
There are two to three exhibitions a year, most of them accomponied by publications compiled at Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur. Presentations are organized that are assembled from the institution”s own collection as well as displays of works that enter into a dialogue with it. The exchange with regional, national, and international institutions plays an important role, as evidenced by numerous collaborative exhibition projects and a lively circulation of loans.

Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur
Gabriele Conrath-Scholl
Im Mediapark 7
50670 Köln
Phone: +4922188895300

SK Stiftung Kultur der Sparkasse KölnBonn
Ralf Convents
Im Mediapark 7
50670 Köln
Phone: +4922188895105