An Evening at Kew Gardens c 1937
© Bill Brandt
Vintage silver gelatin print
Bill Brandt was one of the acknowledged masters of 20th century photography. Taken as a whole, his work constitutes one of the most varied and vivid social documents of Great Britain, producing a body of photographic works that range from stark realism and social comment to pure abstraction and surrealism.
Brandt was born in 1904 in Hamburg to German parents of Russian descent. His childhood years were spent mostly in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and also in Davos, Switzerland. In 1929 Brandt went to Paris and worked for approximately 3 months in Man Ray's studio where he also learned much from the Parisian art of the period, such as the films of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali and the photographs of Eugene Atget, and Andre Kertesz.
When he returned to England in 1931, he began documenting the English way of life. During World War II Brandt was a staff photographer for the British Home Office, documenting the hard times of Londoners suffering through German bombing raids. In 1932 he married Eva, his first of three wives, and made a home in Belsize Park. His career through the 1930s and 1940s ran parallel with the emergence of the great photographic magazines such as Picture Post and Lilliput which afforded Brandt the opportunity to produce important, ground-breaking photographic essays, the most notable being images from the Industrial and Coal-mining areas of Northern England. With the end of the war, Brandt's attention turned away from reportage, to the landscape and its natural form in the book "Literary Britain" 1951. He is also known for his series of extraordinary female nudes, particularly distinguished by his use of a wide-angle lens in close-up (causing the body shapes to appear distorted) and by the stark black -and white tones with little middle range.
In 1981 The Royal Photographic Society inaugurated its National Centre of Photography in Bath with an exhibition of 50 years of Brandt's pictures. His work has also been honored by a score of smaller shows. in such far-flung cities as Paris, Stockholm, San Francisco, Houston, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Brandt's pictures are considered important by London's Victoria and Albert Museum, New York's MoMA, Rochester's International Museum of Photography, and Paris' Bibliotheque Nationale, which all have major collections of his prints.