- Date of Birth:
- May 1904
- Date of Death:
- Dec 1983
Bill Brandt is one of the most celebrated British photographers of the 20th century, best known for his surrealist-influenced nudes and his portrayal of Londoners during the Blitz.
Brandt was born in Hamburg, Germany, to a wealthy banking family with British and Russian roots. At the age of 16, he contracted tuberculosis and spent the next six years recovering in a Swiss sanatorium.
Aged 22, Brandt left for Vienna, joining his elder brother Rolf. On deciding to become a photographer, he found work in a portrait studio. During a visit to Vienna, Brandt took the portrait of the American poet, Ezra Pound.
It was probably Pound who introduced Brandt to the eminent painter and photographer Man Ray. Man Ray was to have a great influence on Brandt's photography. Brandt worked as Man Ray's assistant to for three months in Paris before moving to London to become a freelance photographer.
Brandt settled in Belsize Park with his new wife Eva in 1934. He began documenting British life, often staging the shots to some extent. Brandt photographed British society and the contrasts he saw in it. He used his family connections to document the wealthy alongside the poor, capturing domestic servants and East End children alongside aristocrats. In 1936, Brandt produced his first book, 'The English At Home'.
Turning to more political subjects, Brandt explored the industrial midlands and the north to produce striking, memorable photographs of the hardships of life there.
In 1938, Brandt published his second book, A Night in London. In this book Brandt's images show the City streets after dark, sometimes floodlit by the transportable tungsten lights Brandt used.
Brandt met a broad spectrum of people in the arts world, in both London and Europe. They included artists Brassai and Braque, and picture editors Stefan Lorant and Tom Hopkinson of Weekly Illustrated, Picture Post and Lilliput, to whom Brandt contributed photographic assignments over the years.
The war years were very productive for Brandt. He photographed London's streets and buildings during the early Blackouts, and the Blitz. In 1940, he was commissioned by the government's Ministry of Information to report on Londoners seeking refuge in Underground air-raid shelters.
The resulting 35 images of entwined bodies sometimes hint at the staging that Brandt favoured. However, after just over a week at work, Brandt was forced to stop due to ill health. An unknown photographer completed the project in his place.
Brandt's post-war photography brought him further acclaim. Using a former police camera with a wide-angle lens, he began to take photographs of nudes. These notorious images, surreal and often abstract, betrayed influences from Man Ray to Henry Moore.
Brandt continued to work for the illustrated magazines, creating many portraits of noted individuals. As with his nudes, the backgrounds of the images were often as revealing as the subjects themselves.
Brandt's later years were spent photographing, teaching at the Royal College of Art and selecting works for exhibitions. Whilst working on his Literary Britain show in 1983, Brandt fell ill, and died soon afterwards.
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