August Sander, 'Die Boxer

August Sander, 'Die Boxer

August Sander (1876-1964)
'Die Boxer, Paul Roderstein, Hein Hesse'
Gelatin-silver print
Museum no. 141-1979

The Photograph

This image of two boxers was taken by Sander for his project 'Man of the 20th Century'. It is typical of much of the series in the pose of the figures, shown in full length, hands by their sides, facing and acknowledging the camera. The men are posed against a wall, which gives the image an unstaged quality. This is also emphasised in the sharp focus of the image and the unromantic posing of the men. Sander often photographed people in pairs, which makes us compare the men physically and speculate on the differences in their character.

The Photographer

August Sander became interested in photography as a young man. He bought a portrait studio in Austria in 1903 and produced the soft, Pictorialist-style portraits that were fashionable at that time.

In 1910 he moved his business to Cologne and began his project 'Man of the 20th Century', photographing people in their own environments, ordered into groups defined by trade or appointed function. These images were naturalistic and not retouched, Sander's preferred visual style for his own work. In 1927 he exhibited 60 images from the 'Man of the 20th Century' project in Cologne and his first book 'Faces of our Time' (1929) also showed a small selection from his physiognomic study.

The Nazi regime was wholly unsympathetic towards Sander's photography and his family's political beliefs (his eldest son died in prison in 1944). In 1934 the printing plates for 'Faces of our Time' were confiscated.

Sander's photography was not political but his project included many types of people, some of which were persecuted by the Nazis. Sander not only presented German people as made up of various groups, but also in a realistic rather than heroic light. The opposition to his work led him to concentrate on photographing landscapes and botanical studies, work which continued to contemplate the German environment but did not create conflict with Nazi officials.

After the war Sander returned to the 'Man of the 20th Century' project, reprinting old negatives and producing some new photographs. MoMA in New York accepted 40 of his photographs into their collection in 1953 and some of his work appeared in the 'Family of Man' exhibition curated by Edward Steichen at MoMA.

Sander's wife died in 1957, after which Sander did not feel strong enough to continue his life's project. He died three months after a severe stroke in 1964.


This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13a.