An Emotional Journey into the Heart of August Sander’s Iconic Photograph, “Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance”

The por­trait is your mir­ror. It’s you.August Sander

A pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, and com­pelling por­traits that speak elo­quent­ly to a crit­i­cal moment in his­to­ry often earn many more than that.

Author John Green’s thought­ful Art Assign­ment inves­ti­ga­tion into Three Farm­ers on Their Way to a DanceAugust Sanders’ 1914 pho­to­graph, taps into our need to inter­pret what we’re look­ing at.

The descrip­tive title (the piece is alter­na­tive­ly referred to as Young Farm­ers) offers some clues, as does the date.

The sub­jects’ youth and location—a remote vil­lage in the Ger­man Westerwald—suggest, cor­rect­ly as it turns out, that they would soon be bound for what Green terms “anoth­er dance,” WWI.

Green has learned far more about the peo­ple in his favorite pho­to since he cov­ered it in a 2‑minute seg­ment for his vlog­broth­ers chan­nel below.

Much of the short­er video’s nar­ra­tion car­ries over to the Art Assign­ment script, but this time, Green has the help of “a com­mu­ni­ty of prob­lem solvers” who con­tributed research that fleshed out the nar­ra­tive.

We now know the young farm­ers’ iden­ti­ties, actu­al occu­pa­tions, what they did in the war, and their even­tu­al fate.

Dit­to their con­nec­tion to pho­tog­ra­ph­er Sanders, who lugged his equip­ment on foot to the remote moun­tain path the friends would be trav­el­ing in fin­ery made pos­si­ble by the Sec­ond Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion.

A con­sum­mate sto­ry­teller, Greene makes a meal out of what he has learned.

It would pro­vide the basis for a hel­lu­va book…though here anoth­er author has beat­en Green to the punch. Richard Pow­ers’ nov­el, also titled Three Farm­ers on Their Way to a Dance, was a Nation­al Book Crit­ics Cir­cle Award Final­ist in 1985.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

Take a Visu­al Jour­ney Through 181 Years of Street Pho­tog­ra­phy (1838–2019)

See the First Pho­to­graph of a Human Being: A Pho­to Tak­en by Louis Daguerre (1838)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Here lat­est project is an ani­ma­tion and a series of free down­load­able posters, encour­ag­ing cit­i­zens to wear masks in pub­lic and wear them prop­er­ly. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Karen Christopher says:

    This gor­geous infor­ma­tion is crack­ling light­ning out of my grey mat­ter. I enjoy the lay­ers in this enve­lope of human­i­ty. The var­i­ous projects it pro­vokes and inspires. A moment cap­tured years ago leav­ing a trail of beau­ti­ful pos­si­bil­i­ty and inquiry. Thanks for the details.

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