men's file Magazine Issue 30 & CLUTCH Magazine Vol.96

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Dear Readers

Men’s File chronicles the moveable feast of male style through the photographic image and in this our 30th issue, we celebrate the photographers who have made that possible. In his enlightening essay of The Suit and the Photograph (1979), the critic John Berger makes a Marxist assessment of the renowned photograph by August Sander known as Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1914). In the image, the three youths, who any viewer might speculate would soon be for the trenches, are enjoying a summer evening walking across the fields to a village dance. Berger, who saw the world via the prism of class oppression, deconstructs the image through the meta language of their clothing – to be precise, their black suits. The excellent Berger reminds us that it was the landed gentry that established the formal dark jacket and trousers as signifiers of status and power and that by 1914 even peasants had access to a version of the suit. He goes on to notice the farmers’ muscular hands and the ill-fitting nature of their ensembles. Although a highly perceptive observer, in his view, they were doing nothing more than performing a pastiche of the upper classes, but I think, for once, he got it very wrong.

I know how walking across the fields in the last light of a summer evening towards a dance feels, as I did the same thing 60 years later, when making my way to a northern soul club a couple of miles from my home. It was 1975, and in a vain attempt to look like Bryan Ferry, I wore a khaki shirt and trousers with a green tie tucked into my shirt two buttons down. I wonder what John Berger would have made of a 15-year-old boy dressed in the manner of an American

GI, walking through the English countryside over 250 miles from London and any American base. I only mention my own experimentation with style in the context of the country village and my staging a performance when there was no audience and no applause, because that’s what those three young men were doing, just months before the first shots were fired on the Western Front. The hat, tipped to one side, the ornamental walking cane and the cigarette hanging from the mouth. This is not a group of men mimicking their ‘betters’ but a stylish manifestation of panache, that will doubtless reach its climax as they make their grand entrance into the German equivalent of the village hall in their small town in the Westerwald region.

Like with so many photographs, there’s still a lot more to know and extensive research has been carried out into this image since Berger’s critique over 40 years ago. Today we are told that the three individuals, Otto Krieger, August Klein, and Ewald Klein (his cousin) were not farmers but worked in a local iron ore mine. Furthermore, that they did indeed go to fight in Belgium later that year, and that August Klein never returned. We will never know how, but Sander was capable of creating a photograph with layers of meaning and resonance, and this image is his best known. Men’s File is composed from a series of portraits of stylish men and women and clearly, the photography of August Sander has been influential on those who create the work you see on these pages. There will never be another Sander, but by standing on the shoulders of giants, all our contributors try to capture the intangible nothingness of ambience, like that perceived when walking across the fields to a dance on a summer evening. Only the time and place change.

Nick Clements (Editor-in-Chief)

All text and photos by men's file magazine

men's file Magazine Issue 30 & CLUTCH Magazine Vol.96

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men's file Magazine Issue 30 & CLUTCH Magazine Vol.96
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