These images usher in the seventh and final volume, The Last People , which addresses the ramifications of the First World War, implying that it was a catalyst for social decline. Yet their significance in People of the Twentieth Century is more complex than this. Sander had planned to include many double portraits in his book; for example a pair of usherettes, preceded by a pair of gypsies, followed by two dwarves.
All of them are circus types. Art historian George Baker has argued that, cumulatively, these double portraits create an uncanny effect. Their associated inhabitants included people of colour, onto whom Weimar culture projected fantasies about the primitive, of miscegenation, for example, or of spiritual revitalisation.
Together with tropes of regression, Weimar thinkers used these fantasies to organise — or anchor — a transitional world. As a unique image it does not contribute to the visual repetitions that elsewhere foil his taxonomy. He is not bound by them, however, in that he occupies an in-between space the circus. While the Indian is rootless, Sander as the photographer is cognitively distant; they align together as strangers in society.
Atavistic tendencies : the culture of science in American modernity - University of Maine Libraries
For if there was only one universal social portrait, then how could there be a Germany to taxonomise? And if there was a national entity to classify, universalism could not apply. However, during the Weimar era the middle class was undergoing radical transition. In People of the Twentieth Century Sander sought to depict an old identity in a new world that could no longer accommodate it.
In the impromptu act of taking tea, the two circus workers transpose its signifiers china, table, tablecloth , from the private sphere into a communal milieu, the non-space occupied by the circus. The pair are only borrowing the symbols of bourgeois life. Yet Sander does not alter his visual syntax for them, which causes a split to emerge between his subject the stranger and his style bourgeois portraiture.
5.3 Post-Cinematic Atavism
For the art historian Hal Foster style can structure a subject and a subject can impel a style into being. Sander invites their otherness yet nullifies it. These in turn informed domestic laws about biopolitical categories of citizenship, including jus sanguinis. Harmsen felt that the French approach to colonialism was so lenient it had caused the Vernegerung Frankreichs the negro-isation of France , and feared the same fate for an occupied Germany. Jonny spielt auf!
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It was against this backdrop that Sander photographed his subjects. Sander must have known that by depicting it he could excite visceral responses that might disrupt the civilising force his archival project exerted on Weimar society. It is as if this image were intended to lay down an ethical gauntlet to the structural logic of People of the Twentieth Century. Kristeva has argued that a discourse of crisis characterises cultures in which hybridisation and strengthening nationalism occur. The woman rests her hands on the table, on which the man plants his left elbow, his hand draped down.
This photograph, which cannot fix or root its subjects, calls this mission into question. But Sander frames the photograph to include a sag in the tent wall behind them, and a taut length of rope at the top, both of which attest to the temporary space they occupy. Similarly, the dry, scuffed-up ground beneath their feet indicates that it has been traversed over and over. Unlike domestic sites which are conventionally sacrosanct and static , this is a rough meeting ground, a crossroads for multiple, incidental interactions.
Atavistic Tendencies: The Culture of Science in American Modernity
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