Bill Brandt was a British photographer born in 1904, and a founding father of photography’s modernist tradition whose half-century-long career defies neat categorization. While assisting ManRay in Paris, he started on his long career. Other than the technical aspect of photography, Brandt seemed to also emulate ManRay’s abilities to take a fairly new technology and apply his constantly evolving creativity to it. But Bill Brandt took that inspiration of creativity and applied his own unique spin. These were the years (late 20’s early 30’s), that his contemporaries, Brassai, Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson were all working in Paris.
The Rolleiflex Years
During his documentary stage, the normal lens of the Rolleiflex 3.5 75mm was his most implemented companion. But it was also during this time of contributing to many periodicals that he seemed to develop his gritty realism in high contrast. Quite edgy for the day. Although having moved to London from Germany in 1934 he quickly began his photo journey into British society, which resulted in what would become his signature style for the Picture Post and Harper’s Bazaar. His books at the time, “The English at Home” (1936) and “A Night in London” (1938), also became his pre-war legacy.
Most of Brandt’s documentary and journalistic work was done during this pre-war and wartime period. But in the 1940s, Bill Brandt was tipped off by a friend about an interesting camera in a local antique shop in London. He bought it and subsequently used it for his project “Perspective of Nudes“, which became a key book of 20th century photography. It was an old, (even at that time), Kodak Wide Angle Camera with Zeiss Protar Lens, used by police for recording crime scenes. Basically it was a fixed focus box camera. It gave a very wide 110 degree angle of view, equivalent to 15mm lens on 35mm format. As time went on, this old wooden camera became a bit limiting and unwieldy, and cameras started to advance, and so Brandt started using a Hasselblad SWC. (maintaining his unique signature perspective on nudes)
Bill Brandt and a New Perspective
The Museum of Modern Art has been exhibiting and collecting Brandt’s photographs since the late 1940s, and has recently more than doubled its collection of vintage prints of his work. Even today, an archive website of his work is maintained. (see website link below) But it’s his books that exhibit an almost timeless vision. While most of the documentary work is period specific, his wide angle nudes fit into no particular era, and could have been done yesterday. These include “Brandt“, “Nudes 1945-1980” and “Shadow and Light“. All getting rarer everyday, but still available. Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.