Bill Brandt: A Retrospective

Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Sunday, July 20, 2003

From his early work documenting the social contrasts of life in Britain in the 1930s to his later expressive distortions of the human form, Bill Brandt (1904–1983) created more memorable images than any other British photographer of the twentieth century. Bill Brandt: A Retrospective spanned his career in an extensive assemblage of 155 vintage gelatin silver prints from the Bill Brandt Archive in London, prints that Brandt himself made, sometimes with his own retouching in pen and pencil.

Brandt once wrote, “Photography is still a very new medium and everything is allowed and everything should be tried.” His vision, unconfined by easy categories, extends from photojournalism to moody, atmospheric landscapes to stark, revealing portraiture to high-contrast nudes, distorted with wide-angle lenses.

Born in Germany, Brandt worked as Man Ray’s assistant in Paris in 1929 before moving to London in the 1930s to become a freelancer for the new magazines Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, and Picture Post. Some of this work was later published as his landmark book, The English at Home. His photography concentrated on the sharp social contrasts of London and on the grim landscapes and hard lives of the Depression-era industrial north of England in an expressive, high-key style that pushed accepted boundaries of documentary photography and journalism.

Bill Brandt, Henry Moore (detail), 1946, gelatin silver print, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of the Parnassus Foundation, courtesy of Jane and Raphael Bernstein, B2004.8.

During the “blitz” of World War II, Brandt photographed blacked-out London by night and followed the crowds into improvised air-raid shelters in the Underground and church crypts. After the war, Brandt’s work underwent a shift in focus. As he himself explained, his “main theme of the past few years had disappeared; England was no longer a country of marked social contrast.” Brandt then turned to nudes, portraits, and landscapes.

Bill Brandt: A Retrospective was organized by the Bill Brandt Archive and circulated by Curatorial Assistance, Los Angeles, CA. It was curated by John-Paul Kernot.