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SHOW ME SOMETHING I’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE! AUGUST SANDER AND MICHAEL SOMOROFF

Posted on February 5, 2013 by Isabella Cecconi

“We 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”.

If you love photography, you MUST know who August Sander is. A German maestro of photography, whose work on landscape, nature, architecture, but most of all street photography and portraits as exemplified by his series People of the 20th Century has been a cross-section of society during the Weimar Republic. Sander’s monumental, lifelong photographic project was based on photographing subjects from all walks of life and creating a typological catalogue of more than six hundred photographs of the German people. People of the 20th Century was gradually created by Sander as a sort of catalogue of mankind that could represent a pluralistic vision of the society far removed from the myth of the Aryan race. The series was divided into seven sections: Farmers, Skilled Tradesmen, Women, Classes and Professions, Artists, The City, and The Last People (the homeless, veterans, etc.). Michael Somoroff, was born in New York City in 1957. He studied art and photography at the New School for Social Research and assisted his father in his studio (a photographer too), on the set, on location and in the darkroom. In October 1979 the first exhibition of Somoroff’s photography was held at The International Center of Photography in New York City. In 1978, he had opened his own photography studio and had begun working for every major magazines in New York and Europe. As a student of the legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch, Ben Somoroff (Michael’s father) introduced his son to Brodovitchʼs revolutionary philosophy, which influenced a generation of photographers, artists and designers including Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer, Lillian Bassman, Henry Wolf and Milton Glaser, encouraging him to make unexpected images and push the boundaries of conventional ways of seeing. Brodovitch urged to “Show me something I haven’t seen before.”, thus creating an exciting period of experimentation and innovation in media of all kinds.

Ever since, Somoroff has been pushing the medium of photography and digital technology beyond their usual limitations, in pursuit of his particular passion for a pure, non-figurative art. The exhibition Absence of Subject is an elegant and eloquent testimony of the latest evolution of Somoroff’s art. The entire body of work has been acquired by the Museum of Fine Art, Houston. 40 original prints by Sander from the famous series People of the 20th Century and 40 photographs by Somoroff, based on the same images but with a digital interpretation that emphasises the power of the German photographer’s shots even in the absence of the subject itself. Somoroff took these photographs and modified them from a conceptual point of view, digitally erasing the human figures to reveal the essence of the places, silent streets or empty interiors and emphasise, through the absence of the subject, the relationship between man’s presence and his environment. From each of the original shots Somoroff removed what might be considered the ‘essential element’ i.e. the subject, the portrait, keeping only the surroundings. Thus the background, which to Sander represented a secondary element, now becomes the main subject, and the photographs are transformed into works conceived in a completely new way. Absence of Subject is a thoughtful and passionate meditation on memory, imagination, human resilience and creativity. From 1st February to 7th April, 2013 the Fondazione Stelline of Milan will be hosting this great exhibition.

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