A German portrait photographer’s attempt to capture his country and its archetypes
People of the 20th Century
by Gabriele Conrath-Scholl and Susanne Lange
$125.00 List Price
In 1962 Diane Arbus asked John Szarkowski, head of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for August Sander’s address, “because there is something I would like to write to him about.” Several things make this request remarkable. First, there’s the shock that Sander (1876–1964) and Arbus (1923–1971) were even alive at the same time. Then there’s the ordinariness of the proposal, as if an up-and-coming songwriter were casually asking for Bob Dylan’s e-mail. Finally, there is the appropriateness of Arbus’s presumption. Sander’s photographs played a crucial part in the development of Arbus’s mature style, but her work, in turn, is a path that leads viewers back to his—whereupon a Harold Bloom–ish reversal takes place because the Arbus influence on Sander’s work, made before she even held a camera, seems unmistakable.
Szarkowski, of course, knew better. Put in mind of Sander by one of Arbus’s pictures, he pulled out some photographs for her to look at. Not having seen Sander’s pictures before, she was, according to Szarkowski, completely “floored” by them. The epiphany is perfect except in one small detail: It’s not quite true. In 1960, Arbus had dashed off a card to Marvin Israel: “Someone told me it is spring, but everyone today looked remarkable just like out of August Sander pictures, so absolute and immutable down to the last button feather tassel or stripe. All odd and splendid as freaks and nobody able to see himself, all of us victims of the special shape we come in.” Note how Arbus, with the characteristic flash and style of genius, first fixes the Sander
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