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The Human Story Behind an Old Photo: ‘Young Farmers’ by August Sander


In 1914, German documentary photographer August Sander captured a famous photo titled Young Farmers, which shows three dapper men walking along the rural countryside. In this 9-minute video for PBS’s The Art Assignment, famous author John Green dives deep into the photo and the story behind it.

Young Farmers, 1914 by August Sander.

Although the photo is titled “Young Farmers” — or alternatively, “Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance” — they weren’t actually farmers. Two worked in an iron ore mine and one worked in the mine’s office.

And the three men were actually on their way to two different dances, Green notes. One of the dances they knew about: it was the dance in a nearby village. And the other they were heading toward unknowingly, as the photo was captured shortly before World War I erupted, and one of the three men became one of the estimated 9 million combatants who perished in the conflict.

“Photography does a lot of things for us,” Green says. “It gives us glimpses into places far away and times long past. It can help us to understand the world. It can help us feel like we’ve seen things we’ll never really see or known people we’ll never really meet.

“But a picture is not a life. The Young Farmers photograph is about what those boys don’t know, but it is also about what we don’t know and a reminder of what pictures cannot show us.”

(via The Art Assignment via Reddit)

P.S. Green previously shared a shorter 2-minute analysis of this photo on his own YouTube vlog channel back in 2015.