Bill Brandt (photographer)



2015-06-26 11:20:14

Hermann Wilhelm Brandt, known as Bill Brandt (1904-1983) was a British photographer and photojournalist.


Life and career

Brandt was born in Hamburg, Germany, and great up during World War I. The remainder of his childhood was spent in a Swiss sanatorium as he recovered from tuberculosis. He travelled to Vienna for psychoanalysis, and there met the modernist writer Ezra Pound. After taking Pound’s portrait, the writer offered to introduce him to Man Ray, and Brandt spent some time assisting in the studio of the famed surrealist artist and photographer in 1930.

Brandt moved to London in 1933, and this began his career of documenting British society, in a method uncommon at the time. He published two books full of these observation images entitled The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938). He contributed to many magazines.

During the 1940 Blitz, Brandt was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to document the London underground bomb shelters. He photographed much of England during the war, and to mark peace in 1945, produced a celebrated series of nudes.

He is known for his high-contrast images of British society, as well as his distorted nude photographs and landscapes. Many consider him among the most important British photographers of the 20th century, providing a body of work that altogether presents a social document of 20th century Britain.

Celebrated Photographs

  • A Snicket in Halifax (1937)
  • East End Girl Dancing the Lambeth Walk (1939)
  • Many of his Nudes series, particularly Nude, London (1952) with the bent elbow, and Kismet and Mirror (1953).
  • René Magritte (1966), showing the surrealist artist holding up one of his pictures.

Notable sales

  • Nude, London (1952) with bent elbow sold at Sotheby’s for $26,400 in October 2004 and at Christie’s for £23,750 in November 2010, $72,000 in February 2007, and €78,000 ($91,400) in November 2005.
  • Nude, march (1952) sold at Christie’s for $48,300 in October 1994.
  • Nude, London (1940s) sold at Christie’s for $47,000 in October 2000.
  • Reclining Nude (1957) sold at Christie’s for £13,750 in November 2011.
  • Kismet and Mirror (1953) sold at Christie’s for $19,200 in April 2005.
  • Van Gogh’s Room in the Asylum of St. Paul-de-Mausole (St. Remy) (1950) sold at Sotheby’s for $265,000 in April 2008.
  • Parlour Maid Preparing a Bath (Mayfair) (1933-36), sold by Sotheby’s for $38,400 in April 2007.
  • East End Girl Dancing the Lambeth Walk (1939) sold by Phillips De Pury & Co for $20,000 in October 2007.
  • A Snicket in Halifax (1937) sold by Phillips De Pury & Co for $17,000 in April 2011.
  • Gold Cup Day at Ascot (1933) sold by Sotheby’s for $15,625 in April 2008.

Did you know…?

Bill Brandt's style changed completely by the end of the Second World War - a fact that he admits to. From reportage photography focusing on extremes of social contrast and the lives of ordinary people, he began to produce stylised photographs of nudes, portraits, and landscapes.

This was because, in his words: 'I think I gradually lost my enthusiasm for reportage. Documentary photography had become fashionable. Everybody was doing it. Besides, my main theme of the past few years had disappeared; England was no longer a country of marked social contrast. Whatever the reason, the poetic trend of photography, which had already excited me in my early Paris days, began to fascinate me again. It seemed to me that there were wide fields still unexplored.'

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