Menschen Ohne Maske (Men without masks); August Sander (1876-1964)

In July 2018 I was fortunate enough to view the work of August Sander, at Hauser & Wirth, London, the Exhibition; ‘Men without masks’ 

“Let me speak the truth in all honesty about our age and the people of our age.”

If you’ve never heard of August Sander let me start by saying he was one of the greatest photographers of the 20th Century; Born into a peasant family east of Cologne Germany, He was to become a pioneer for the world of portraiture photography, producing his magnum opus ‘people of the 20th century’  it would become if not the most of important bodies of work in photography, The most important piece of  photographic work of the 20th century, creating an index of faces from the Weimar era,  a face that in time would change, with the coming of WWII

The exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, London, is the first time this body of work has been shown together since its initial exhibition in 1973, organised by sanders son; Gunther (1907 – 1987).  Its not short of a miracle that any of the photos exist,  ‘Menschen Ohne Maske’ is a celebration of the diversity of the German identity, that dates back to 1910, unfortunately the Nazi Party frowned upon such societal representations and had Sander’s work destroyed, fortunately for us living  in today’s world many of the negatives where kept hidden enabling us to peer into the past and admire Sanders sympathetic eye towards his subjects; portraying bohemians, shopkeepers, intellectuals, philosophers, farmers, bakers, boxers and many more archetypes of the Weimar era


Inside the gallery; Sanders Prints had been curated beautifully, formal and sleek, the space feels diverse, edgy, yet calm. The Prints framed and mounted in a way I have never seen; oversized prints on glossy paper, with a 2inch white, mounted border, the mount itself 2cm thick which really helps portray the importance of the historical work the viewer is looking at.


The walls painted a heritage green also adds to aesthetic of the space, on walking into the space the curator meets me with some information about Sander and his work, followed by a sequence of portrait photographs all the same size showing the diversity of contemporary Germany through the eyes of Sander leading me to slowly look at the subject in each photograph, the detail helping me consider the person the place the time.

While viewing a photograph or a series of photographs I initially inspect the details, I think about the person in the created image,  how the image was created, what approach the photographer took, what questions did he or she ask the person that stood before them, then I go away and let it all sink in, it is only after the work truly reveals itself to me, and Sander has revealed something to me of which I’ve always been drawn to, its the social mask that we all wear,  I have always been interested in ‘The Mask’, I worked with my friend Oliva in 2014, to which I started considering ‘The Mask’, In sanders work, the mask has become more evident than ever the social mask is always revealed as the camera never lies, it reveals all social classes of our times


Inspired by Sanders work, I have set myself a goal to take 600 portraits of the archetypes of modern day Britain, creating an index contemporary Britain, a body of work which like Sanders I hope will show the change in the face of our times, with Brexit looming I shall get to work!

So if  you’re a boxer, a professor, a baker, artist, brewer, doctor, solicitor, factory owner, street cleaner or even a tax officer, I would love to make your Portrait, one for the history books for the people of the 22nd century to consider, if you’d like to be a part of my ongoing project ’21st century people’  and you live in Lancashire, please get in touch at;

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Published by Ashley Hardman

Image maker from the north west

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