PhotoVerso #6 - August Sander
Your Guide to Photography in the Metaverse
This week we’re spotlighting a special event in the NFT Photoverse, the release of the first ever 10k photography project. In partnership with Fellowship, the estate of August Sander has come to the blockchain via free distribution to the NFT community.
In this issue we’ll touch on August Sander and his legacy, interview Fellowship Co-Founder Alejandro Cartagena on how this project came about, and talk about the signals this drop sends for the future of photography in the age of the NFT.
Who is August Sander?
August Sander is best known for his iconic series of portraits titled, ‘People of the Twentieth Century,’ an expansive body of work consisting of 619 images representing a broad cross-section of German society in the first half of the 20th-Century. The work is noted widely for it’s ideal of documenting German citizens with an objective view point, aspiring to the ideals of truth-telling that inspired generations of photographers who came after him. People of the Twentieth Century’ was also notable in the ways in which the collection was sub-divided, consisting of smaller collections organized by archetypes of subjects. These sub-sections were given titles such as, “The Farmer,” “Woman,” “The Artists,” “The City,” among others, and form of typology that came to be considered quite influential in the legacy of German photographic theory.
Over the span of decades, the photographer amased an archive of over 40,000 images, 3/4s of which were tragically lost when his studio in Cologne was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid in 1944. What remains of Sander’s archive is a collection of just over 10,000 images that have been carefully preserved by three generations of his descendants; the latest of whom, Julian Sander, partnered with Fellowship to release this collection to the NFT community.
The Bigger Picture
Signaling towards the traditional photography world
The August Sander 10k collection marks a milestone in the both the brief histories of NFTs, and the long histories of photographic distribution as being the first NFT collection comprised of the entirety of a photographer’s estate.
This event may likely prove to become a significant case study of how photographer legacies can be preserved on the blockchain, and it’s quite likely that a broad segment of the photography world, from museum curators and archivists to galleries and photographer estates, will look to this collection as a model for how to both archive and distribute important photography collections via blockchain mechanisms.
The publicly viewable archive also begins a new standard of visibility and public access to large photography collections, an issue that has historically burdened museum collections in respect to the vast volumes of photographs that remain unseen from the public eye.
Signaling towards the NFT community
Anyone who is a member of the NFT community on Twitter has likely seen a storm of posts by those who received mints for the Sander collection. Since the reveal last night, Twitter feeds have become flooded by collectors showing of work by Sander that they received and/or purchased on the secondary market. The enthusiasm for this collection has been enormous, partly due to the surprise reveal of the photographer (Fellowship kept the name and work secret until the minting began), and partly due to the vast scope of the collection and it’s status as the first ever 10k photography drop.
Interview with Alejandro Cartagena
Fellowship Co-Founder Alejandro Cartagena has developed a reputation for having distinct, forward-looking visions of what photography is capable of in the NFT world. With a long track-record of experience in the traditional photo sphere, along with a large network of photographers and curators, Cartagena is taking initiatives as a leading voice in not just the NFT photo world, but in the NFT community at large. We sent him a few questions to learn more about the Sander collection.
PhotoVerso: To start, can you talk about just who August Sander is and what he means to the history of photography?
Alejandro Cartagena: August Sander can be seen as one of the most influential photographers ever. He influenced generations of image-makers from both an aesthetic viewpoint, and a conceptual viewpoint. Over the course of his life he constructed an enormous body of work in an era that photography applied more to short photo essays, and for decades he ammased a body of work conceptually sound and remarkably consistant. Sanders is a photographer’s photographer. A practitioner that found his own path and own voice, and perfected it to create his own way.
PV: The 10k drop consists of Sander’s entire archive of work, a considerable legacy that the photographer left behind. How did you initially learn about the collection?
AC: It was through one of our consultants, Darius Himes, who is the Head of Photography at Christie’s. He referred me to the Sander family estate, and I became overwhelmed with excitement over the potential. He introduced me to Julian Sander, August’s great-grandson, and we talked for hours. It was an instant match of philosophical ideas and how NFTs and the blockchain can foster photography into a new technological and conceptual era.
PV: Can you talk a bit on the photographer’s family and how they have worked as stewards for Sander’s archive over so many decades?
AC: There are many stories to tell, but the one that I love to share is hearing Julian recall the times when his father would have him look through a stack of August’s photographs and have him pick the “good ones”. He was being taught how to think photographically and conceptually about images, and how to read images in a critical way. That for me stands out as a remarkable example how family heritage gets passed on from one generation to the other. The responsibility of August’s archive passed from his son, to his grandson, to his great-grandson, each generation providing labor in organizing and cataloging August’s work. In the histories of photography that is a generational commitment to stewardship, and it’s a remarkable story.
PV: This project is being offered to the NFT community as a free mint, which speaks volumes about the importance you see in having the work be accessible to all who are interested in collecting it. What do you hope this collection will come to mean for the NFT world?
AC: The free distribution of the archive to the community is a steppingstone to a larger conversation. For me, NFTs aren't fully about selling, (though I do believe in the economic opportunities they bring) they are about creating culture. Culture becomes popular culture. Popular culture represents the circulation of ideas and the opportunity for broad audiences to find common ground. So if this collection helps Sander’s legacy reach more people, and if NFTs allow for that type of distribution, then I will champion this new model of seeing and appreciating photographic culture.
PV: This is the first, but likely not the last large photographer estate that will release a legacy via NFT collection. Can you speak to the importance of the blockchain as a tool for preserving photographic history?
AC: I started my career as an archivist. I scanned images from the 19th and 20th century as my day job for 5 years. That experience formed my understanding of preservation, and also opened my eyes to the many stories held captive in archives, remaining unseen with stories unheard. Archives should be alive and shared. They should be public and easy to access. Given the nature of museum collections as well as personal ones, so many important images and image-makers lie dormant, and never reach the imaginations of a larger audience. Opportunities of the creation of sense of place or self through images are not happening because of the rigidity of the institutions that hold the archives. This is not a subtracting endeavor, its an additive pursuit. This release of this collection is one response to some pressing questions: What else can we do to circulate the work? What else can we see in the work that helps understand our past and our present? I say let the archives come up for air, because they otherwise suffocate in storage facilities, hidden in boxes where no one can access them.
Where do We Go From Here?
Since late summer, we’ve witnessed astounding growth in the interest towards, and market for, photography in the NFT space. The emergence of curated platforms like Fellowship, Assembly, and Quantum have opened significant inflows of talented and well-known photographers into the marketplace, while DAOs like RawDAO, Untitled, and Obscura are providing growth opportunities for emerging artists. With this attention and enthusiasm surrounding the August Sander collection, photography’s place in the NFT world will only accelerate in growth.
August Sander is far from the only significant photography estate that holds such a large archive of historical work. One thing we’ll be on the lookout for are more estates following The August Sander Archive’s lead in bringing their legacies to the blockchain. We expect the photo world-at-large to pay close attention to the success of this collection.