Thursday, February 12, 2015

August Sander, Hohenzollernbrücke

August Sander, Hohenzollernbrücke, 1945

August Sander (1876-1964) was an extremely important German photographer.  Sander first learned about photography when he assisted a photographer working for the mining company that employed his father.  With help from his uncle he bought photography equipment and began experimenting.  He was able to work as a photographer's assistant for his military service (1897-99) and spent several years traveling Germany and Austria.  In 1909 he settled in Cologne and set up a studio there.  Sander mostly worked as a portrait photographer, known for his series People of the Twentieth Century.  In 1929, sixty of these photographs were published as a book, Face of Our Time.  Among his most celebrated and discussed pieces is Three Farmers (1914).  Sander's career and personal life suffered greatly under the Nazi regime.  His son was imprisoned for his membership in the liberal Socialist Workers' Party and died in prison.  Sander's work was banned and many copies of his book were destroyed.  Once World War II broke out in force, Sander set about photographing the city of Cologne in order to preserve it, if only photographically.  Located near the border of France and Germany, the city was subjected to numerous bombing raids and suffered a great deal of damage.  However the damage in this photograph was inflicted by the Germans.  Hohenzollern Bridge, which crosses the Rhine, was blown up by the Nazis to slow the Allies' advance as they invaded the city.  The photograph is an intense encapsulation of the damage done to the city and some of the destruction of the war. There is no visible human presence in this picture; the area appears deserted to escape the danger of the collapse.  A small boat is visible in the left foreground, also abandoned.  The image of the powerful steel, bent and twisted, collapsed into the water, is a powerful concept for this documentarian of the twentieth century.  The famed Cologne Cathedral, which thankfully survived the bombings, looms in the background, a vision of survival and endurance on the far bank.

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