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The Power of a Picture: A Look at ‘Young Farmers’ by August Sander


John Green of vlogbrothers made this interesting 2-minute video in which he talks about his favorite photo: a picture titled “Young Farmers” by German photographer August Sander. Upon first glance, it may look like a simple snapshot of three nicely dressed men walking along a road, but there’s so much you can learn about the photo by examining it closely and by looking at the cultural context.

August Sander shot a famous project titled People of the 20th Century, a series of diverse portraits that gives a cross section of 20th century society. The work is so influential that Sander is often called “the most important German portrait photographer of the early twentieth century.”

The photo “Young Farmers” is also known as “Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, 1914”:

"Young Farmers" by August Sander.
“Young Farmers” by August Sander.

“Perhaps most striking about this portrait of three farmers walking along a country road on their way to a dance is their formal dress: each wears a hat and suit and carries a walking stick,” writes the Getty Museum. “This formal appearance removes them from the reality of their occupations. Each man is seen from the side, glancing over his shoulder at the photographer; they stop only for a moment before continuing on their journey.”

P.S. This German newspaper article reveals that the photo shows two men and a cousin who worked as miners, not farmers. They were on their way to a dance in a nearby village, and one of the three died in World War I (the other 2 survived).