August Sander – People of the 20th Century

August Sander’s (1876-1964) most famous photographs are portraits of the German people, social types of all classes and occupations, taken for a vast documentary archive project of his own conception. Sander attempted to make „natural portraits that show the subjects in an environment corresponding to their own individuality.“ Of Sander’s work, Thomas Mann wrote in 1929: „This collection of photographs, as finely delineated as they are unpretentious, is a treasure-trove for the student and lover of physiognomy and provides an excellent opportunity to explore the occupational and class-structured imprints on humanity.“ These images, part of a monumental series Sander called „People in the Twentieth Century,“ were abhorred by the Nazis and banned in the 1930s.

As the first documentary filmmaker, Reiner Holzemer has produced a film about the most famous German photographer, which shows both, the work and his biography. It introduces Sanders heritage from a poor minors family in the „Westerwald“, a region located in the midwest of Germany, as well as his early career as a studio photographer in Trier and Linz, and his most productive period between the Twenties and Thirties in Cologne, where he developed his big project „People of the 20th century“.

Reiner Holzemer was able to interview several eye witnesses, who knew Sander personally, f.e. his daughter Sigrid Biow, who died in Washington in 2001, his former assistant Renate Prior from Dallas, who worked for the master during the Forties and Gerd Sander, the grandson, who takes care of the August Sander estate today, together with the Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne.

For this film, the estate has delivered almost exclusively vintage photographs, done by Sander himself. They were made with excellent craftsmanship in detailed focus and give an idea about the photographers intentions.


Country of Production

Year of Production

Digi Beta Pal

44 min

Reiner Holzemer

Reiner Holzemer Film in co-production with BR, in association with ARTE

Original Language
German, English