Monday, October 12, 2009

Thoughts on Sanders, Small Trades and Streetstyle

If you follow me on Twitter you'll already know that I'm doing a night class in photography. Actually I'm doing two different classes, in case you're confused. One is History of Photography in the Glucksman Art Gallery and the other is practical Photography (mostly black and white film) in the Crawford College of Art. Last Thursday was the first of those classes and it started with a really great lecture about Photography within Contemporary Art by Trish Brennan, which got me really excited about what the course is going to be like! Our first project is to make a set of photos using an objective approach. I've decided to do portraits so I've been looking at photos by August Sanders.

Bricklayer, 1928

Pastry Cook, 1928

Circus Workers, 1926-1932

Village Schoolteacher, 1921

Varnisher, Ca. 1930

Sanders worked in Germany in the 1920s and set out to document society at the time through a portrait series. He used to cycle out into the country and photograph the people he met. He said "[w]e know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled,". When the Nazis came to power in the 1930s they banned his portraits, probably because his photographs showed a varied population which did not adhere to their Aryan ideals.

Because alot of Sanders portraits show people in their working clothes or environment and are captioned by their occupation, they reminded me of Irving Penn's series Small Trades which I read about recently in Septembers issue of American Vogue. (thanks Sinéad!) The Getty Centre is currently showing all 252 portraits Irving Penn shot in three cities, Paris, London and New York around 1950/51. He was doing a lot of fashion photography at the time and he photographed the tradespeople in the same studios, with the same attention to lighting and with the same beauty and elegance that he used to shoot couture gowns.

"Seamstress Fitter," London, 1950.

"Milkman," New York, 1951.

"Fireman," New York, 1951

"Commis-Larue," Paris, 1950.

"Coal Man," London, 1950.

There is something very current about the Small Trades series. I think it because the photos are so 'human'. They look beyond the stereotype and show you the people. You can imagine a seamstress or fireman today posing exactly the same way. The jobs may have changed, the clothes may have changed but people are the same now and fifty years ago.

A lot of today's streetstyle photography reminds me of these series of photos. In fact the Sartorialist mentioned Sanders as one of his inspirations. There is a similar objective style of photography. On the surface it may seem that the subject is slightly different, style versus occupation, but really it is all about portraiture and people. And about how people's identity is expressed by what they wear, whether that is a uniform for a job, a well cut suit, a student wearing a quirky outfit or a fashion editor wearing a beautiful dress.

Its interesting to note the last two photos which the Sartorialist took recently at Paris Fashion Week, as they are in black and white, and relate them back to the photos taken by Sanders and Penn. It is easy to see the similarities.

So that's the overflow of thoughts floating around in my head and the background to my first project for my photography class. I might (just might) show the results of my project when its done... depending on how it turns out!

Edit: Rory is writing great reviews of the History of Photography classes on the Cork Analogue Photographers website.


Little Monarch said...

this is a brilliant post. I learnt about sanders in anthropology and his portraits are incredible. thats so true about comparing them with the sartorialist! i never would have even thought. Im so proud of you doing a photography course. I cant wait to see your project :-)

Anonymous said...


Emily Cato said...

Wow, amazing post!

Alice said...

It is an excellent post! I like the way you moves snoothly in time presenting street style. Totally made sense!

Winnie said...

You'll have a lot of fun with that class. What a great post, I learnt loads about Sanders in my art history degree too!

Miss Woo said...

Ooh the post about Sartorialist inspirations was very interesting. Though I still think Sanders photo has a lot more thoughts go into them...

Anonymous said...

very interesting post x

Lluviaschick said...

very inspirational

calivintage said...

wow, this is a wonderful lesson in photography history. i absolutely love these images and they are great inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Cool post, love the Penn photos. Thanks for the mention!

- Rory

Mike said...

Thanks for alerting me to Sanders work. As a great fan of Penn the connection in style is uncanny. A very lovely visual blog. Mike Graphic Journey