Das Gesicht der Landschaft
Sander was born in Herdorf, the son of a carpenter working in the mining industry. While working at a local mine, Sander first learned about photography by assisting a photographer who was working for a mining company. With financial support from his uncle, he bought photographic equipment and set up his own darkroom. He spent his military service (1897–1899) as a photographer’s assistant and the next years wandering across Germany. In 1901, he started working for a photo studio in Linz, Austria-Hungary, eventually becoming a partner (1902), and then its sole proprietor (1904). He left Linz at the end of 1909 and set up a new studio in Cologne.
Around 1942, during World War II, he left Cologne and moved to the small village of Kuchhausen, in the Westerwald region; this allowed him to save the most important part of his body of work. His Cologne studio was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid, but tens of thousands of negatives, which he had left behind in a basement near his former apartment in the city, survived the war. 25,000 to 30,000 negatives in this basement were then destroyed in a 1946 fire. That same year, Sander began his postwar photographic documentation of the city. He also tried to record the mass rape of German women by Red Army soldiers in the Soviet occupation zone.
Sander’s work includes landscape, nature, architecture, and street photography, but he is best known for his portraits, as exemplified by his series People of the 20th Century. In this series, he aims to show a cross-section of society during the Weimar Republic. The series is divided into seven sections: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, and The Last People (homeless persons, veterans, etc.). By 1945, Sander’s archive included over 40,000 images.