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Sander is one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century best known for his lifelong attempt to document the German people. Working Students depicts the artist’s son Erich Sander and his friends Richard Kreutzberg, Hans Schoemann and Georg Hansen, all of whom were political radicals and members of the German Communist party. The men are posed in front of the corner of a room or studio. This neutral background foregrounds the men, looking serious and idealistic in suits which appear a little too large for their young frames.
The history of the men after the photograph was taken reflects the tumultuous period in which they lived: Kreutzberg committed suicide in 1933; Schoemann worked in the underground resistance during the Second World War; and Hansen was imprisoned in London in 1932 for espionage on behalf of the USSR. Erich Sander was arrested in 1934 by the National Socialists and died in prison ten years later.
Working Students was included in Sander’s seminal publication Face of our Time (Antlitz der Zeit), published in 1929. The book, containing sixty portraits, was conceived by the artist as a ‘physiognomy of people’, depicting a diverse selection of German citizens classified according to their occupations, trades or places in society. The book is considered to be one of the most influential documentary projects in the history of photography, influencing the work of artists including Diane Arbus, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Cindy Sherman.
This particular print has been identified as the early state of the image that was used in the first edition of Face of our Time. A vertical line of the photographer’s original retouching behind the head of the second figure on the left and a small mark on the top left edge of the print correspond to the illustration in the book and do not appear in subsequent reproductions of the image.
Jill Quasha, The Quillan Collection of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Photographs, New York, 1991, reproduced pl.69.
Gunther Sander, ed., August Sander: Citizens of the Twentieth Century, Portrait Photographs, 1892-1952, Cambridge, 1997, reproduced p.200.