When I saw Bill Brandt’s picture Halifax I took to his work immediately, however it was when I saw his other work that I fell in love with him. His range of subjects is so varied and yet he mastered each subject he took on: nudes, abstracts, portraits, landscapes. Versatility is a thing I admire in an artist being it in a range of subjects like with Brandt or in both subjects and tools like the works of Gerhard Richter.
When Bill Brandt started his career as an assistent to Man Ray in Paris he got inspired by Surrealist film and saw its possibilities for photography. This resulted in him experimenting with modernist styles and night time photography. Brandt was a keen observer with an eye for composition but he also had a good feeling for portraying social contrasts between the high life and poor families. This contrast featured in the photoessay The English at Home (1936) which he made after moving to England and for which he used his family contacts to gain access to a variety of subjects. In 1938 with A Night in London he’d return to his earlier nighttime photography experiments. The book told the story of London at night experienced by people from different social classes.
‘In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since.’
Brandt loved the way the city looked during the blackout of the 1939 ‘phoney war’ period when war had been declared to Germany but serious hostilities had yet to begin. And together with writers such as he made picture stories about it. Later during the Blitz he was commissioned to record bomb shelters by the Ministry of Information. his pictures were even sent to the USA in attempt to get them. After the war he’d travel all over the UK to take pictures of landscapes inspired and accompanied by text from British literary writers.
But Brandt didn’t limit himself to land- and cityscape. From the forties on he started making more and more portraits, mostly on commission. Later he ‘d experiment with nudes and it is in these series that the influence of his former master Man Ray and other members of the of the École de Paris such as – Picasso, Matisse and Arp is most visible. But the compositions also refer to the sculptor – together with his admiration for Henry Moore of whom Brandt was a great admirer.