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Video transcript

so this portrait that we're looking at is by August sander German photographer the portrait is titled secretary at a radio station cologne and it's from about 1931 now let me see if I can remember this because it's been a long time Sandra was he was trying to create these these photographic sort of perfect representations of types of people or types of occupations is that right exactly almost these sort of platonic ideals I don't know if they're platonic I think you could refer to them as her forms or original forms I think he's interested in looking at people in Germany as of particular occupational or professional classes so those are types there are a lot of different things that can be drawn from this so it's not a physiological well it's related to physiognomies and who people are in terms of what they do okay is this related at all to the physiology is that the branch did yeah mid in 19th century and yes I mean sander did not have strong theories of one type of person looking or necessarily being better and more pure than another that was really wasn't his project he was trained and worked as a portrait photographer in the early 20th century and this portrait is 1931 so for a number of years he was doing straight portrait photographs being paid for them in his studio and then he becomes more interested in a kind of clinical gaze and so like saying that a person's occupation actually forms their physiognomies in a way in a way yes I mean if you look at somebody's hands right um right a worker a farmer for example would have hands that look much different from an accountant's hands and perhaps the way that they hold themselves it was the entire sort of representation of the person right it's sort of oh it's she's trying to get a complete picture and sort of look at these connections like how do we hold ourselves and how do we present ourselves and it is about sort of public persona because it's profession so can I ask a sort of tidiness this is 3130 so um this is sort of his type of secretary at a radio station but he have photographed a whole series of secretaries and then looked for one that was most ideal in some way he did a series of women and so then there are different types of women that are like what while farming women women that are artists there are professional women intellectual women this is probably a lower middle class lower middle class or it sort of a new salaried woman dollar divorce but new threatening it's exactly I mean he is the new woman and she has all of the trappings of that art type did he do a series of men because there's no kind of long history of in photography going back to Monday of men photographing you know women and and looking at different types of women and especially fetishizing working-class women actually it was before photography right yeah we had to dig aha I think back well that's not before photography but but I mean just this whole notion of the scintillating quality of right there working right woman yeah he had I think a wider gaze than that he's looking across profession so he has a couple of books and exhibitions that come out in the 20s and 30s and the one that was published in 1929 was called faces of the time and that was a collection of sixty photographs and it was intended to be is it men and women it is men and women yes it's okay you know faces of our time in general and it organizes people by class or by occupation and so he starts off with farmers he began to take photographs of all these farmers in the Wester walled region in Germany and that's kind of where he came up with all these different kinds of farmers like young farmers and old farmers and big huge families of farmers and farmers that are rich in farmers that are poor he's looking at it really as a kind of scientific project sociological anthropological study of all these and he feels like especially in the 20s like to make sense of the changing German culture and to make sense of all these different new things new different types of people that are appearing you know one way to kind of make sense of it all is try to organize them so also categorize a huge project of documentation to very German in a curious way it reminds me of the best years later yes well the Becker's come out of that no anyway how does it remind you better this this notion of really trying to document and understand through a kind of almost encyclopedic it's exactly coming from this exact kind of imagery the bettors are looking at Saunders project and other German photographers a post period that idea that you're constantly looking very closely clinically at these no ashi design it is patently you know that that so reminds me of a kind of 19th century positivist tradition of you know sort of scientific categorizing you know species and you know putting things yeah category that comes out in how he organizes everything but he's not going about this as a moral or not no he's not specifically moralizing [ __ ] makes this project more modern because that yeah it's not in there that's also I mean it may be I know it's artistic that's true but and there may be a thin veil of it but but nevertheless he's hanging on to all that relative the other ones there's great I mean this Oh pastry chef and this is is maybe a little bit more telling about the idea that it's a profession that he's lease of a facility see him with the tools of his trade the image we looked at before that the new woman has tools of her trade but they're a little bit less obvious so he has his outfit on he has his pastry chef the white jacket or they office shot in this way like straight on yes mostly full portraits or 3/4 length there I mean at least these two are both somewhat confrontational subjects generally look directly at the camera and they sort of have that kind of dialogue with the photographer and it's often very you know like there's some sort of pride they're not you know they're sort of presenting their public selves it's hard to read there's a kind of mask it is it's a metal mask but you sort of take on but you know he's sort of almost like paused in the middle of something but it also looks posed right Sanders definitely posing him he's got light set up in a certain way you know that's really contrasting it brings out the white of his jacket and then the sort of silver and there's sort of the gleam of yellow and it's also so carefully composed these lines of Bin's or whatever they are that sort of come and meet toward his head yep you know it's drawing our attention to his face you know it's you know that diagonal line of his hand going toward the corner with the with the spoon and his body takes up a significant amount of space within the image it's really beautifully composed in it it is it is portraits are even more striking because of that here's another one what's this one called this is called disabled man so this is really only a few years after the end of the First World War and and disability was incredibly public right it was and this I always think is very striking and kind of an ironic forget he's in front of the stairs right and he's not really sure if he has legs or what right part outlet of his legs are left so he doesn't have prosthetics likely he has this kind of half wheelchair sort of cart thing you know any sort of gazes out perhaps a little reproachfully reproachfully at the photographer yeah but it's also again just a lovely composition with the diagonal line of the stairs and the perspective yeah the striking it really sort of hangs your attention I mean you can't help but look at the stairs and then look back at the figure because well and there's this really interesting sort of mix between the tragic and the beautiful mm-hmm and you know it really makes an enormous the sort of powerful combination and and does it attempt by the subject to retrieve a degree of dignity in his posture yeah he's right oh and he's staring straight out at the photographer as well and I like that kind of confrontational look he's meeting our gaze and he sort of looks I feel like he's I'm looking right at him when I look at the image I don't who's sorry doesn't utilize the photographer was down it's and it's not looking it's not looking down not looking down at him even though he's at a lower level there's we've assumed a kind of Crouch so that we're looking across at least that's what the orthogonal seems to suggest his arms are up he's not stretched yeah and he's you know there are other disabled War veterans who had these little carts that were just basically like skateboards and they would push themselves on the ground you can see a lot of those in paintings of the of the early 1920s but this is somebody who the public might have tried to avert their gaze from well that's and it probably yes and to put this person sort of front and center in a photograph as a subject of our gaze is a pretty powerful and I think you know knowing what we know is going to happen a few years from this you know that that people who are disabled in in all sorts of ways are no food the Nazis try to you know destroy that image of the imperfect body yeah I think it's that the sense of this is in the public what do they do with this kind of person that you you sort of put push them away push them off to the side and as I'm not trying to make sound route is some sort of it's about Bruce not the first image it's not with sort of more heroic eyes farmers it was not was he's not with the intellectual types he's sort of you know standard dose he does turn his camera on all different so this is what obscenity but quality it is encyclopedic but you know he's probably in a similar section as the unemployed he's not sort of held up what's interesting to me though is that if this image had been you know filled more with pathos you know if it had been more pitying more emotional in some way sander might not be part of the modernist Canon right right it's this kind of detached gaze I think so much of a part of what modernism is and as soon as sentiment enters into it or manipulation in some way it's not you know it blurs that line it was the narrative is inserted then in a very direct way and then and the modernist aesthetic rejects this right you know it's weird what's interesting is that is that there really is a narrative here I mean this man is and and the wound did a really a representation of Germany's failure during the First World War their loss right or at least that's how we're reading it yeah yeah I always look at it as a disabled man from the war the war and now he could be disabled from from something now quietly right um but it was not any there were so many images that I just sort of fit comes become symbolic of that but I think you know one of the things that sander did that was that was great was was used this sort of clinical scientific gaze where he sort of kind of wanted to organize all these images and it kind of brings out this tension between science and art that I think is really really important in photography and it's that tension that I think makes the image is so wonderful and so striking that you really look you know at this sort of stark image that doesn't seem coated with sentiment yet also has you know sort of conventions of beauty and harmony itself and is scientific in some right right and there's still you know sort of the chem began and mechanical and I think I'm one of the things that sander was able to do and one of the reasons why he started creating these images is that he accidentally printed on a different kind of paper in about 1920 and it really does make a difference you know like the kind of paper that you print on when you create a photograph now we have digital images we print on and you know I need to anything really right really you know that this kind of image versus a carbon print versus gum bichromate print versus you know any other kind of earlier photograph those are much more sort of fuzzy they're blurry there has a sense of the artistic or the pictorial once you start printing on paper that has more neutral tones or even cold tones it takes on that kind of psychic even through a documentary gaze so that you're looking at things and they seem more objective and they kind of take up that guy's and whether or not they are not we end up reading them and that way but they also for photography might have functions in some way I guess this is a question did they function in some way as a way of divorcing photography from painting and in a sense giving photography a kind of autonomy an aesthetic autonomy maybe with alive with science that really finally brought it away from those pictorial traditions in which it had been embedded that was I think really exciting for artists photographers in the 20s the idea of the new that photography it was one of the reasons it was so appealing is that it's a technology of modernity it's of the Nuits of science it has nothing to do with or so they wanted to think of painting and of the old of traditions mired in the brass you could really create from it something entirely new and of the moderate except that all vocabulary that we are using is embedded in the history of art and history of painting because what makes an image successful is just what makes an image successful in a way whether what we're looking at it's true although embedded in its own in its own sort of technological and historical moment yes what a terrific image you