Finding August Sander

Finding August in August – Melaten Cemetery, Cologne 2014

Anyone who knows me, or has asked my greatest inspiration in photography, the answer would be German photographer August Sander (1876 – 1964).  His portraits are so beautifully captured they literally took my breath away when I first saw them.  My ‘Portraits of Rhiwbina’ exhibition and book was inspired by his collection of portraits featured in his book ‘Face of our Time’ published in 1929 and his posthumous work, ‘People of the 20th Century’ which was published in 2002 and contained over 650 portraits, spanning his life’s work.  You can find out a little more about him by visiting

On planning our family trip this summer, including three days in Arnhem in the Netherlands, I realised we were only an hour and a half from Cologne on the train.  Giving my husband a song and dance about the Cologne Cathedral and amazing shopping and history, I managed to persuade him to go for the day.  Only a few days before I managed to also tell him about the coincidence that my favourite photographer was buried in Melaten Cemetery on the outskirts of the City … my my what a surprise!  With a lot less fuss than I had anticipated, he agreed he and our son would help me find August Sander.

On a beautiful Saturday morning we arrived in Cologne.  The Cathedral is beautifully ornate, immense and it seems to bear the signs of its history in the blackness of its walls.  With a day ticket secured we set off on the underground route 18 to change for the number 7 at Neumarkt for the Melaten stop.  The cemetery is huge, with old crypts and ornate sculptures lining vast paths.  In front of the gate was a map of the areas divided into numbered sections and we knew we were looking for the area of 87 in the top left of the map.  Following the main path, we couldn’t help but be amazed at the detail of some of the graves, volunteers were busy clearing fallen leaves and not being able to speak German, the language barriers quickly put a stop to a quick find.  Luckily some of the graves are marked and we followed the sequential numbers to the area of 87.  All I knew of the grave is what I had seen in a Wikipedia Image my husband was not very impressed with my details of, “Its kind of a rock in the ground with gold lettering with the rest of his family on it too … oh, and it seems to be under a tree”! 

August Sanders Grave in CologneNeedless to say we spent an age looking until we decided to split up, (not in an uncoupling way) … he went left and I went right to look for August in August.  About 15 minutes later, after knowing that his patience would quickly be running out, as well as our day in Cologne, I heard a Cardiff accent declare, “I found him, he’s here”!  Following the voice, there it was … the grave of August Sander.  As I stood there I couldn’t help but be emotional, it took me by surprise the effect it had.  I never met the man, yet here I was a big lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  I guess that’s what happens when you stand at the graves of your hero’s, knowing that it’s the closest you will ever be physically to them.

I had brought one of my books to Cologne, to leave at his grave, inscribed with a personal thank you to a man and photographer I so greatly admire who lived beyond the realms of us ever meeting within our lifetimes, but a man whose work will forever leave a lasting impression.  Thank you August Sander.

August Sanders Grave in CologneAugust Sanders Grave