Exercise 1.2 Background as Context (P.26)

The exercise requires us to look at August Sander’s photographs and study them close especially the background then to make a portrait of someone we know paying attention to  the background.

August Sander (1876 -1964)

Sander was born in Herdorf, a small town on the river Sieg in the Siegerland.  His father was a carpenter.  He started getting interested in photography very young in 1892.  His portraits had plain objective style.

He published Antlitz der Zeit (Face of our Time) in 1929.  The book was a project made of German people portraits.  Sixty portraits were taken between 1910 and 1928.  His concept is a caricature of Teutonic methodology.

Sander considers every part of his subject.  He pays attention to their expression, gesture, costumes and posture.  His pictures display the social abstraction of occupation and the employee.

Sander’s subjects seem to be aware when photographed as they look into the camera.  Sander had taken pictures on military service and during the Great War of people who wanted their pictures to be sent for their loved ones and be remembered by their families.


[Source of image: taken by my galaxy phone camera from the book (How to Read a Photograph)]

Sander used humour in this portrait of the drunk sailor standing on a balcony in front the girders of the bridge.  The bridge gives a destabilizing effect where the man is hardly managing to stand still.

More frequently people in funny pictures are admirable.  Many of them are not good but funny at first and then eventually they make us sad and sour.  Funny pictures are hard to make because the life that enabled it is hard to live.

In the drunken sailor Sander addresses mankind and attempts to sympathize with his subject in a comic sense.

One of Sander’s favourite portraits of mine is the (Circus People) or (Circus Artists).


[Source of Image: Art Agenda ]

It shows a group of circus performers at rest.  Each of its own colour, class and gender in costumes.  The group is comfortable eating, drinking and relaxing but we can still see the tiredness and hardness of work in their faces and expressions.  Sander opt to show his subjects in their everyday scene behind the caravan instead of performing in the circus.  He managed to represent the subjects of his portrait as a chosen family despite the differences in color, birth and class.

The exercise asks us to take a photo of someone we know and reflect on how successful it was.  I chose to photograph my little girl below:


I used my 50mm f1.4 lens to capture my girl’s portrait from above using an aperture of f1.8 to be able to keep the face in focus while throw the rest of the body including the background out of focus.  I wanted something that is a little out of the box so I aimed for a different angle by shooting down to my subject.  My subject’s face is in sharp focus looking straight into the lens which creates a real sense of connection between the subject and the viewer.  The rest of the body and the background are blurry and out of focus with a little motion blur that adds a feeling of joy and a sense of fun and gives the portrait a little spark.

Bibliography / References:

Adams, R. (1994).  Why People Photograph.  1st ed.  New York:  Aperture.

Jeffrey, I. (2008). How to Read a Photograph. London: Thames & Hudson.

Szarkowski, J.  (2009).  Looking At Photographs.  New York:  The Museum Of Modern Art.

RISD Museum.  Art & Design.  Circus Artists [online].  RISD Museum .  Available from:  http://risdmuseum.org/art_design/objects/2616_circus_artists_zirkusartisten?context=38&type=exhibitions [Accessed: 10 July, 2016].

Latimer Q.  (2011).  Diane Arbus & August Sander [online].  Art Design.  Available from:  http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/diane-arbus-august-sander/ [Accessed:  10 July, 2016].


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