Bill Brandt, born 1904, Germany Is widely a recognized as one of the masters of 20th Centrury photography. His work was wide and varied documenting life in Great Britain. The work ranged from social commentary, surrealism and pure abstract.
Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) was a major influence on him. He worked with Ray for three months in 1929 in his Paris studio. In 1931, he returned to England and began documenting English Life. Ray used drastically cropped his photographs something which Brandt attempted to copy in his nude series. Brandt had a close friendship with Brassaï. Brassaï (1899-1984) born in Transylvania was like Brandt a master of night photography. Later in Brandt’s career he based Brassaï’s work ‘Paris de Nuit’ on his series A Night in London (1938), where he photographed his first wife Eva. Eva pretended to model as a prostitute in St. Pauli, at the time the red-light district of Hamburg. Both contributed to several magazines including Picture Post and Lilluput in London.
The English at Home (1936), was Brandt’s earliest English Photography and using his family contacts was able to gain access to his subjects. The Parlourmaid and Underparlournmaid ready to serve dinner taken in 1933 illustrated life in the 1930s. The book documented the disparities between the wealthy and the working class.
(Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document, 2006)
In the 1940’s he photographed nude models indoors with the use of low-key natural lighting. Brandt’s use of body in space echoes throughout the book and in particular focusing on various parts of the anatomy e.g. an ear, eyes. However, the models though do not really connect with the viewer and the expressions are hard to read.
The series Fashion in Bras 1949, depicted models in day lit rooms posed sometimes in front of pain mirrors without reflections of the model. The photographs were reserved and classic in their style.
Later in 1961, Perspective of Nudes was published. Brandt used a Hasselblad super-wide lens for the beach photographs. It featured nudes in interiors, studios and on the beaches of East Sussex. He combined the landscape and parts of the anatomy in and abstract way reminiscent of Henry Moore’s abstract female sculptures. “These nudes, out of Balthus to a scenario by Hitchcock played a minor part in perspective of nudes” (Brandt and Jeffrey, 1994)
Brandt’s own account of how he took these nudes were explained in Bill Brandt: A Life. Brandt says, ‘Over the years, I learned much from the old Kodak (police camera). I learned even how to use modern cameras in an unorthodox way and, for the last section of ‘Perspective of Nudes’, photographed on the beaches of East Sussex, Normandy and southern France. I discarded the Kodak altogether. But I continued to let the lenses discover for me. It is difficult to explain how I took the last photographs. They were perhaps chance pictures; unexpected combinations of shapes and landscapes. I watched them appear on the ground glass and exposed. It was as simple as that.’ (Delany, 2004)
Brandt experimented with colour between 1962 and 1964 on the Beaches of Normandy and Sussex. Eight photographs appeared in the first edition of Shadow of Light but cut from the second edition.
Brandt used professional models but also sometimes family and friends. His second wife, the journalist Marjorie Beckett, modelled for the Campden Hill photograph.
Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document (2006) David Campany. Available at: http://davidcampany.com/bill-brandts-art-of-the-document/ (Accessed: 5 April 2018).
Brandt, B. and Jeffrey, I. (1994) Bill Brandt: photographs, 1928-1983. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Delany, P. (2004) Bill Brandt: A Life. Stanford University Press.
Victoria and Albert Museum, O. M. (2011) Bill Brandt Biography. Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ (Accessed: 5 April 2018).