Sunday, February 18, 2007

Josef Sudek's recipe for survival.

My first reaction on reading Sudek’s biography was of dismay, as were many of the photographs in this book entitled “poet of Prague” disappointing at first sight. He came across as an opportunist, a many of many faces, astute and cunning more than the dreamy artist that some of his views would make you expect him to be. I was of course missing the point: Sudek did what it took to survive and work in difficult circumstances, and was still able to achieve great poetic results eventually. He had to be resilient and cunning to withstand the troubled history of his country and times, take care of his mother and sister, and cope with his invalidity.

Bohemian hero.

Like the unforgettable soldier Sveijk, Josef was a very reluctant recruit of the Austro Hungarian army as it went to war in 1914. He did all he could think of to avoid combat duties, pleading with the authorities on the grounds of some illness. He is by that time the only son and surviving male of his small family. One can imagine how his mother and sister might have been rather overprotective of him, he might have been a little spoiled then, as he was later taken care of by his sister throughout his whole life. But still he had to go, his lax military attitude landing him into the trenches in the worst possible position, damp and next to the latrines. Paradoxically it was this punishment that saved his life, when a bombardment happened to spare his spot and kill all his comrades. More absurdity and tragic irony as faith strikes, again a la Sveijk, when the eleventh offensive starts along the Italian front. Josef is hit by Austrian shrapnel (the so called friendly fire) as he is exhorting his fellow soldiers to take cover. Truly the anti hero, totally un rhetorical common sense in the heat of battle. No victorious march here, just a bunch of men trying to save their skin against all odds. By 1916 his war is over. He comes home wounded, leaving his right arm on the field.

Bohemian bohemien.

This would have sealed many men’s fate: destined them to the life of an invalid, a pension, maybe begging. Sudek wasn’t above all that, he applied for every possible state financial aid and claimed not to be able to make a good living or pay taxes. At the same time he was doing very well indeed as a free lance photographer, from a humble wooden shed where he had installed his studio, charging five times more than his colleagues for his prints and doing also nicely paid advertising jobs including the enjoyable odd female lingerie shoot. Hardly completely pitiable and helpless, wouldn’t you say? This was to become a pattern: like a modern bohemian Robin Hood, he would cheat on his taxes and try to milk the state any way he could while maintaining a low profile, and sponsor his poor artist friends with a generous part of his good income. If not in a strictly commercial sense by selling him things, these would repay his financial support by giving him their works of art. Sudek ended up with a considerable collection, largely amassed in the studio that was to be eventually filled to the ceiling with papers and things of all sorts.

Bohemian Raphsody.

Before settling down for good in Prague, his home and inspiration, Josef was to live another Sveijkian adventure in Italy, as he toured along with an orchestra in 1926 (music was the other great passion of his life). Apparently he disappeared for two months, unaccounted for, and reappeared in Prague as if nothing had happened. Nobody knows where he went or what he did, but I for one would love to read that story. He did go back to the old battle field, this we learn from a letter he wrote, possibly looking for a missing part of him: his lost arm or his youth? Those he didn’t find, obviously, but the farm where he was first brought to, just wounded, was still standing. He was never to travel again.
His high commercial times were ended by the annexation of Bohemia Moravia by Nazi Germany and the second World War. Bleak times for Prague. Sudek retreated into his studio and his own thoughts, working on still life and introspective views from his window. The frosted or steamy windowpanes diffusing the light reflected by his sisters laundry hanging to dry, a tree, a wall. Arguably among his best work, I think, the true unique contribution to world photography, are not the studied monumental views of St. Vitus Cathedral or other formal studies, outdoors landscapes and views, but these intimate simple details. He endured, he worked, he survived the Nazis ending up in post War Prague, under communist rule. He went on working as best he could, his images better than ever and true to his style.

Paradoxical situation again. The new regime would harshly criticize his work, albeit in the preface of the good books lovingly devoted to his photographs that where being printed with its endorsement: the equivalent of illustrating a libel against pornography with saucy pictures. It means that even Marxist official critics recognized his value, albeit in conflict with the orthodoxy of their ideology, and were prepared to compromise. Eventually, maybe malgre’ lui, Josef Sudek became an important influential figure in Czech Photography and was to attain a quite unique status in his country that kept him in a way above politics, as well as international recognition in Europe and America. He worked hard well into his seventies and died in 1976.

The photographs.

Prague panoramas are among the best. He must have found a way to tune his vision to this odd difficult format, and used an old Kodak camera he had found and repaired, to produce the most impressive series. In his own words: ‘I had to learn to look like the camera’ [don’t we all? I wonder] in order to come to terms with the cylindrical perspective of a rotating lens. This can make things to look different than to the naked eye: the important can become unimportant and the other way around. He obviously got his priorities right, the work is enchanting.

The intimate views from his window, the little still lives, the delicate moments of poetry in the interior. Not so much the studies of light and structure, that relate too much to photographic studies of the visual grammar common to most photographers of the era, but those who rely on a quiet instant of revelation: simple objects unassumingly telling their silent story.

Prague in the mist, trees silhouetted in the foreground. Not too perfect, simply right.

One photograph in his studio, of a female nude reclining on a shelf seen from behind. Untypical, a little strange. I can’t help thinking that this might be his sister, Bozena Sudkova. Not enough to have been his faithful confidant, nurse, assistant, washwoman, cook and cleaner all her life, she might have been asked to bend over naked in front of his camera as well. I hope I am wrong for her sake. Not a bad picture, though.

Favourite photo of him: next to his camera, on a rooftop, with Sonja Bullaty. Both looking up, Josef tense and focused, Sonja slightly bored, a tint sceptical. Sonja was a survivor like himself. She came back alone from the camps, her family gone, and worked for him before emigrating to America and becoming one of the advocates of his photography there, as well as a success in her own right.

So Mr. Ray Mears and followers, this is Sudek’s recipe for survival: poetry won’t pay the bills or keep you afloat like a canoe of tree bark, but it can make life worth living when times are hard.

Bohemian first impression.
(footnote, a childhood memory)

When I was about seven years old, in the late sixties, I was given a puppet of soldier Sveijk as a present by a girl from Prague. Dana Lukaskova was staying with us for a while, an exile whom my mother had instantly taken under her wing and brought home. Her shy gentle smile is a fond unforgettable memory, as well as her kindness and her quiet pride and deep love of her country. She also gave us a photo book on her home city by another master: Karel Plicka. Powerful dramatic black and white work.
This first good impression was only to be confirmed when in 1995 I had the pleasure and privilege to spend an afternoon with Jan Hnizdo and the Polaroid 20x24 inch. super camera. A good photographer and a nice man, we understood each other well. To my regret I still haven't made it to Prague, but it can't be far off now! In the meantime there is more Bohemian photography that I would like to comment on. I will keep you posted.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Street photography: years of wasted time, split seconds regained.

“Paris est un théâtre ou l’on paye sa place avec du temps perdu.”
Robert Doisneau

Doisneau was a humble man, and a great photographer. The time he spent on the streets of Paris, observing the life of his city as it went by, he would regard as wasted, were it not for the split seconds in which the shutter of his camera was left open. Those significant instants alone would matter to him. On that account he would estimate to have worked only a few minutes in the course of his lifetime. If we consider that these few minutes were all it took him to create his unique brand of urban photographic poetry, hundreds of moving and beautiful pictures that have come to be everlasting symbols of his city, his people and his culture all over the world, we can begin to grasp what a massive understatement this is on his part. He worked hard and was eventually to be recognized after long years of toil as he truly deserved.

“On ne devrait photographier que lorsque l’on se sent gonflé de générosité pour les autres”.

Typical of his work and his attitude was a keen eye, and an interest in his fellow men. He was more than sympathetic to his subjects, in a way he was one of them and regarded the opportunity to meet new people as one of the true joys of his life. In their midst, often simple people in the outskirts of the capital, he would find a sense of poetry that was to become his trademark. You will not find one image by Doisneau less than respectful and loving to his subjects, sometimes with friendly irony but never sarcastic or detrimental of their dignity. And this attitude was possibly felt by them and rewarded with trust, as can be seen by their candid poses unaffected by the camera even when, as we know, some of the shots were obviously staged. I do not mind that at all. He has made enough real snapshots, possibly missed thousands more, and developed a sense of which image would be more tale telling. Look at his work, you know immediately that you are not on the set of “Irma la Douce” (no Lemmon and McLaine in cardboard streets here) but in real life Paris. Authenticity galore. So when LIFE magazine and his agency RAPHO asked him to do kisses, as a theme of Parisian life possibly suggestive to the American public, they got among others the legendary “Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville”. If it was staged, at least in part, then it was very skilfully done. The shot feels spontaneous, real, full of love, and we “bought” it by the millions.

“Les photographes sont devenues suspects.”

By 1992 Doisneau confessed to a friend that he felt the magic had gone. Photographers were not welcome any more, somewhere along the line the trust had been broken and he was not to collect the treasures of the street any more. He might steal a few, possibly, but that wouldn’t have been his style, would it? NO, to him the joy was gone by then. He would die two years later.

So where does this leave us?
At the beginning of the sixties a new word was coined by the famous film director Federico Fellini: Paparazzo. Originally it was the name of the photographer attached to the journalist played by Marcello Mastroianni in the film “La dolce vita”. At that time Hollywood found it cheaper to stage productions in Rome. As the American film stars spent their evenings in the fashionable Via Veneto, they would be pestered by a new breed of photo reporters, keen on feeding the sensationalist press with saucy shots that would command high fees. Fellini thought of the name “paparazzo” for their sort because in Italian it sounds vaguely like some annoying insect, always buzzing about and most irritating.
They prowled at night, often in packs as wolves on scooters, armed with their cameras and flash guns to stalk the film stars, ignite the occasional fight – often on purpose – (one of the photographers would provoke an attack and suffer a broken camera by some butch male actor so that his friends could photograph the incident and make the news). Ethics were gone for good, these guys played hard. Their bunch still has acolytes and recruits, and they are all around. Worldwide.

I guess the profession of photographer never recovered from their damaging image. It went all the way down to the death of princess Diana as the absolute lowest point. Now I want to reveal to you my theory about her death: she died in a tragic accident caused by her careless driver going too fast in a tunnel. No secret service conspiracy, no murderous paparazzi in hot pursuit.
Yet, as I happened to be taking photographs on the streets in the evening two days later, perfectly innocent architecture shots, I was to suffer verbal abuse by passers by as one of the alleged murders of their darling Princess. And this in Amsterdam! Globalization for you.

If we ever are to regain some of the lost paradise of street photography we should work from two different directions: on one side photographers need to be more respectful and ‘loving’ of their subjects, like Doisneau was, and refrain from the visually sadistic, harsh and vitriolic style that has been adopted by so many lately, in the wake of the good but to me needlessly cruel Martin Parr. Their work, crudely flashed in instants of people mercilessly frozen in mid action exactly when they look at their worst and weakest, is not likely to spread goodwill among potential future victims. Let’s face it: if you have ever been photographed like that, and seen the results, you are probably ready to wave a baseball bat at the next photographer ever to cross your path, and with good reason (!). Are these ordinary people the bad guys, to deserve such a treatment that makes them look a lot worse than they actually are? What is the point, really? To create a sensation at the expense of those who can’t help being what they are or living like they do? Are they to be deprived of their dignity in the photographs as well as so many other things in life? It is an exacerbated description of reality that is wont to awaken a cynic laugh maybe, or a sense of humiliation, but never could any good come from it other than the commercial success of the photographer. This is a predatory way of going about the business at the expense of others, based on an arrogant assumption that we are somehow superior, and have a right to do so. It may be the way things are, but it seems unethical to me, and ugly. To stress the grotesque is a responsible thing to do only when you are defacing the pretence and arrogance of the privileged and the powerful. Exposing their true weakness, undermining their authority, challenging their accurately staged self image could do some good. It is also more dangerous, since these people are more likely to protect themselves with either real or legal fences. They should be fair game for sarcasm, not the poor. Come on Mr Parr, aim higher and higher up the absurd social steps that make up the British class system! Take on the big guns! That would purge your own ethics in the process, and avenge the poor seaside dwellers and working class people to whom you owe so much of your present success. Make them laugh, for a change!

On the other end the public should be a little more patient with these “annoying insects”, people who put themselves through a tough life of cold hands and feet, and endlessly long hours, not to mention the uncertain income, driven by a genuine fascination with life, people and light. Just think that the pleasure we all feel at looking at good photographs, either news, documentary or archive, largely out weights the irritation caused by a few occasional flashguns or bad photographers.
I find it quite hypocritical of people to complain about the present situation when both the stars and the public either benefit or seem endlessly to enjoy the products of the very attitude they pretend to detest. If everyone were to stop buying the magazines, the paparazzi would very soon disappear. And so, possibly, would the stars fade a little.

I have a feeling that the quality of our photographer’s life on the streets as well as the results could change according to our attitude, and for the better. Let’s try wearing our hearts on our sleeves, be honest and direct and “shoot” along the straight and narrow, shall we?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bacon for Breakfast

No, don’t worry, I am not about to go culinary on you. Furthermore, as a continental European, I was only once in my lifetime confronted with the smell of eggs and bacon in the early morning, on a fateful day in South London. This memory goes so far back that to recall it is almost a Proustian effort on my part, and far from a happy one. Fact is that this morning, as I was enjoying a perfectly wonderful huge slice of French brioche along with my Italian coffee, I happened to be going through the pages of a monography on the painter Francis Bacon.

He is one of my favourites.
This being something of an acquired taste, like that for blue cheese, that one is not likely to develop early in life but whose revelation often happens accidentally or by instigation of some initiated acquaintance. Once tried though, the sensation is not likely to be forgotten but usually calls for more and more in a spiralling descent in the hell of addictive vice or an ascension to the heavens of a higher level of adult life. The latter in this case. He did the descending, as it happens, and we can do the enjoying of his incredible vision, distilled in restless intriguing great paintings.

It was one of the studies on Velazquez’s portrait of Innocentius X that triggered my first reaction and got me hooked. Not often have I felt so strongly about a painting at first sight. I was surprised and positively struck by the screaming prelate, in his cage of yellow lines, his white gown almost lit underneath like a rocket chair, or maybe an electric one, as his mouth stands open in an anguished scream. This was different, special, very intense. Also it was very unusual to produce a study of this originality and level while based on another great painting by another master. The two works differ a great deal, although apparently similar in subject matter and composition. Diego Velazquez painted the portrait of a Pope: a powerful inquisitive man, his eyes almost piercing through the soul of the beholder. Not a man of piety, it would seem, but a king of the temporal as much as a prince of the Church of Rome. Torquemada’s boss, as it were, cautioning us for our sins.

Bacon’s pope is rather different. He looks either possessed by a devil or imprisoned in his role by bars of paint and invisible ropes that keep him tied up to his throne. Is he ascending or falling? Screaming or shouting? Is he aggressive or frightened? Or both? Thanks to his effort we have broken into the formal space of Velazquez, bypassed his virtuosity, crossed the distance in space and time and entered into Bacon’s world: the pictorial depiction of his and our own troubled human fate.

In his own words:
"If anything ever works in my case, it works from that moment when consciously I don't know what I'm doing."

This sounds like heavy fare for breakfast, and it is. Personally I wouldn’t want a Bacon in my living room to look at every day but, when the time is ripe, there is simply nothing else quite like him.

Monday, February 5, 2007

El Guerrillero Heroico (1960)

We have all seen it, many have worn it on their t shirts, some have had it tattoed on their skin, a few embroidered in their underwear and who knows where else. It’s the icon of the liberty fighter, the legendary Che, photographed by Alberto Diaz Guttierez – Alberto Korda – in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution.

It’s the subject of an exhibition at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum, a (post) colonial institution that has turned into a politically correct information centre about the third world, specifically the tropical part of it. It looks more like a huge school facility than a museum, actually, and on Sundays it is graced by the presence of many youngsters and children plus respective parents, all of them mostly misbehaving. A nice family outing it is, in case of bad weather, and combines educational values with the thought of eternal summers. So it is a huge success. Braving the noise and the crowds, I climbed three steep monumental flights of stairs with revolutionary verve and entered at last the small section that was dedicated to the famous icon, dodging all the rest. I went in looking for food for thoughts and came out with a fierce appetite, still there is much to be said in favour of stimulating instead of quenching one’s thirst for knowledge, I guess.

The display starts well, with the original frame, not cropped, exactly the way Korda took it with his Leica M2 and 90 mm lens, on that faithful day in Havana. Furthermore we are treated to the contact sheet of the very film, Kodak Plus X Pan, and the fatal frame number 40 followed by 41 shot in vertical. On the same roll many times Fidel, and also unexpectedly but not surprisingly, Sartre and de Beauvoir. But none of these have the power of the two, no, the one frame showing a young and bearded Che Guevara fiercely looking in the distance. The full frame shows more than that, there is also a palm tree in one corner and a face in profile on the other side, so still and statuary that I can’t make out whether it is made of flesh or stone. Korda cropped these potentially distracting elements out of the picture, and turned it into a portrait that was to become hugely famous.

What is it about this photograph that makes it so special?
Instead of getting entangled into a complex reconstruction of Che Guevara’s life and politics, I think we can approach this image on another level, as it is safe to assume that many of those who wear the t shirt don’t have but the faintest idea of who Ernesto Guevara de la Serna really was. So this image works on a more subliminal level and requires really little background information to be appreciated. It is exactly what the title says it is: a portrait of a heroic guerrilla fighter. We might add that it is the portrait of a young heroic guerrilla fighter, or even a young heroic guerrilla freedom fighter and we have all the elements we need to make it a success. It appeals to the ever present ambition or hope of each generation to face the future, change things, shape its destiny. The fact that most of us, and indeed of the generations, fail in this respect doesn’t deter new ones from being born and wishing for the same, firmly believing to be the first ever to have thought their thoughts and wished their wishes. Che Guevara also fits the hero expectations in another respect: true to the classic Greek tradition, a hero gives his life in pursuit of his goal. This is the ultimate test of his worth, the only possible closure of his adventure, the seal that conclusively proves his virtues. Regardless of how one feels about his politics, die he did, young at that, fighting a lost cause in the mountains of Bolivia. Still all this is factual background, doesn’t account for the image. In fact there are more photographs of him, and none have the same magnetism, some are quite boring, or show a somewhat arrogant man smoking a ridiculously enormous cigar and wearing combat fatigues in an office. Those look incongruous, and not so inspiring. It’s the fighter become minister, the same man but not shown in his essence.

So let’s look at the image itself again: taken from below, it has been said, in accordance to Soviet propaganda style. That is not true. The low point of view is by no means a prerogative of soviet style at all, but is used by any regime or system wishing to enhance the status of a personality, from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia to some glamour shots of Hollywood stars. Besides, this is a reportage shot taken by a photographer from street level, of authorities standing on some kind of stage, making speeches. What other angle would have been available to him? So this is probably not staged – call me naïve but I intend to take Alberto's word for it-. He cropped it all right, but still his shot retains something unpolished and authentic about it, not retouched. Soviet style would probably have called for a haircut, maybe even a shave at the hand of some brush artist to give it the distinctive mummy like communist hero look which has been so well translated in western homo eroticism by Gilbert and George or later in some ads for Jean Paul Gaultier. No, no. This is rough, more true to life, simple and therefore effective and believable. It has the smell of truth.

Now I want you to be brave and follow me over the top on a huge leap from Cuba to Florence. When Michelangelo gave life to his David, carving the huge marble block into the young hero, he decided to set the action at a particular moment: a revealing instant. David is a young man, at the dawn of his manhood, faced with a great danger and a serious challenge. He is not shown holding the giant’s severed head like in Donatello’s gracious bronze boy, the feat accomplished, but in the moments before the battle. His body is a classical combination of tension and relaxation, strength and calm, but his gaze is determined. It’s an image of defiance: a symbol of the young republic of Florence faced with external enemies, about to rally its citizens in defence of its newly acquired freedom. David is measuring up his enemy, confident of his own inner strength, focused on the task ahead and sure of his ultimate victory.

A great artist like Michelangelo has created something that will stand forever not only as a celebration of male beauty but also as a symbol of youth and its generous commitment to the fight for liberty. This will in practice mean very different things for different times and places and hopefully will not entail the use of violence in the future, but the intensity of the moment, the look of the eyes, is the same through the ages. The intense gaze as devised by the “divine” Michelangelo was captured by the quick Alberto Korda in a split second, maybe in instant recognition, certainly in confirmation, that the revelation of good photography and that of art must eventually come together, being, by definition, both moments of deeper truth.

I like to think that this is what we respond to in the image of “El guerrillero Heroico”: it’s an ageless symbol of the relentless effort to realize the ambitions of our youth and the legitimate will to determine our own faith defying those who want to control it or the history that has preceded us.
Hasta la Victoria, siempre!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Archetypal Teutons (?) August Sander at the FOAM

Thanks to a brave and most commendable effort by one of my local photo museums, the oddly named FOAM (light and frothy?), I was at last able to confront a good selection of vintage prints by August Sander at close range. These are part of that famous large project of his called “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts”: People Of The Twentieth Century. I have known many of these images for years, as they have been published often, and had developed a personal perception of what they meant and what they were. My opinion was based not so much on documents or a declaration of intent by the author, but on my own reaction to the images and a few bits of information. It is known that the Nazis didn’t like them, and this somehow gives one the impression that August Sander himself might have been trying to prove some point about humanity, and that this point must have been against Hitler’s ideology.
Then, on visiting the show and reading one quite factual an uninspired letter by August Sander himself, plus more comments on his work, I was confronted with another interpretation. Most of all the concept of Archetype is frequently mentioned, as being at the root of Sander’s effort. In other words: August Sander was “collecting” his fellow Germans, in order to establish a typology based on their role and place in society and not on their individual personality or identity. Furthermore, maybe due to archival limitations, maybe intentional, only the name of those belonging to the higher classes is mentioned in the captions to the images, while the peasants and other workers are only identified by their profession. All my life I had thought that this was meant to be subtly ironic, corrosive of Nazi idealism, and the very opposite of what a study like this might imply: that people are not unique but a mere number in a larger scheme of things that we call society. And that in this society some are on top of others, this due to their intrinsic qualities and not a mere accident of birth, luck or other factor. Now I am left to wonder at the intent of August Sander, and I am starting to suspect that he himself might have been more a man of the twentieth century himself than his photographs might have implied to us in the 21st. Is it possible that the power of persuasion of his fine work resides in the capacity of his photographs to provide later generations with documents open for interpretation, despite the underlying personality of the photographer and his original intentions? I think it is.
Archetypes are either original ideas of which everything else has derived as a copy, according to Plato, or the more modern concept of an unborn subconscious idea deposited in our minds in evolutionary fashion, as part of Jung’s psychology.
If you want to prove that people adhere to some pre-existent concept or notion, than the right methodology would be to confront the viewer with a great number of people that do the same thing. Give me one hundred bakers, a thousand soldiers, fifty architects, and I will be prompted to look for and eventually recognize those common traits that connect them to the archetype. Or would his series have been meant as a collection of types that other Germans from his time would have recognized as archetypes? Then I am afraid but the effort would be lost on everyone who hasn’t been there and then to share this common notion. Or did he mean to tell us something about his people by saying: “Look, this is what we expect a baker, soldier, architect, bricklayer or whatever to be like”, thereby trying to convey a deeper understanding of the way the Germans in the thirty’s thought about themselves more than what they in general looked like? I have to admit I am quite lost here.
Some of these photographs, many in fact, are great. They are revealing, as good photographs always are. They show us individuals, original people, posing for the photographer in mostly dignified and self conscious way. In the best examples the pose is not the traditional portrait studio photography kind, but more spontaneous. Those are mostly taken outside, and have clean unobtrusive backgrounds. The higher classes tend to be more conventional, they sit indoors and are either directed to take or have of their own accord adopted some truly archetypal (and in this context the word seems adequate) attitude. They also display some outer show of personality in their haircut, or glasses, or handle a pipe for example, the better to define themselves from the grey masses. Funny that these unoriginal people should be granted a name and surname in the caption – now that their position in society, as the name itself, is completely meaningless to us – and that the powerful young brick layer, for example, is left without name. The irony is that the latter wins: he is still alive and modern, and speaks to us vividly, while the others are dead and buried. But was this the way Sander planned it to be? I don’t know.
What these, I insist, INDIVIDUALS have in common is not belonging to some profession or station in life but a somewhat fixed energetic earnest gaze. They give one the impression of belonging to a stern strict society, a world of hard toil, of authorities and unquestioning subjects, of rules. It may be suggestion, knowing what these people eventually ended up being a part of in hindsight, or maybe the warning was there at the time and was felt by some and by Sander himself. I can’t tell.
It is not difficult to see why the Nazis didn’t like them: hardly the master race these subjects are, really. They are real people, like us. And this we should bear in mind, if we are to avoid the risk of remaining men of the twentieth century ourselves, or worse still, slightly nazist. (Do we find it natural that some should be named and others not? Logical that the photographs of the mentally ill or handy-capped should be shown in a small room at the back? Their prints smaller than the others? Is this all just accidental?).
No person is an archetype, regardless of how hard we try or are lead to conform. We are all individuals, each important to the whole in his/her own right. The more one tries to fit humanity into a mould, the more pieces and bits just keep sticking out of it. That’s the beauty of it, and it shows in Sander’s work. Whether he meant it or not.

One last remark: I have noticed some of the visitors who couldn’t refrain from laughing at the people in the photographs, they made fun of them. Maybe it was the types, maybe the expressions. Beware! We are quite funny ourselves, you know?