Handlanger (Bricklayer), August Sander (German), 1928 (printed 2009), inkjet print with pigment inks on paper, 60 x 43 cm
This photograph of a bricklayer is a part of August Sander’s epic series depicting the people of 20th century Germany, People of the 20th Century. Sander’s image of Germany as inclusive and egalitarian, men and women from all sections of society given equal weight and dignity, clashed with the ideals of the Nazi party, and much of his work was destroyed. Sander’s son, Erich, a Socialist, was imprisoned by the Nazis, and died shortly before he was set to be released because he was denied proper medical care. Erich saw enormous social significance in the work of his father, and hoped to carry it on after his father died.
Careful composition is necessary to a good photo, and Sander’s attention to light and form absolutely make this picture. The light across the young man’s face gives his gaze a sense of immediacy and force. He stands straight like a column, and the bricks held above his head and shoulders like a halo appear weightless, conferring an enormous sense of strength to the subject. In the weltanschauung of the Nazi, the Fascist, the Corporatist, this bricklayer is nothing- but to Sander he is a glorious human, as is every human no matter their circumstance. This photograph is demonstrative of the medium at its best. At once reflective of the medium’s democratic nature and conscious of the elements and principles of art. Both immediately legible, and open to deeper reading. Something five minutes on tumblr will reveal is largely absent from photography today.