Brandt Bill, 1904 1983,  biography English


Born in London of parents who were both partly of Russian descent, Bill Brandt spent his early life in Germany in delicate health. He left a Swiss tuberculosis sanitarium in 1929 to study with the surrealist Man Ray in Paris. Brandt worked closely with Man Ray in his studio for three months and continued to see him regularly for the next two years. He learned the value of experiment for its own sake and was profoundly influenced by the surrealist work of Man Ray and his circle.

After working freelance for Paris Magazine in 1930, Brandt returned to England where he photographed for magazines such as Lilliput, Harper's Bazaar, and News Chronicle for which he documented the conditions of England in the depths of the Depression. He photographed English middle- and upper-class life both before and during World War II, publishing The English at Home (1936), A Night in London (1938), and The Camera in London (1948). Working as a photojournalist on assignment, his photography was a singular and idiosyncratic mixture of straight reportage with a consistent, if subtle, streak of strangeness - the legacy of surrealism.

Brandt lost interest in reportage toward the end of the war, and the expressionism and surrealism of his work was accordingly strengthened. He worked extensively with the nude, often with both perspective and figural distortions. Also important in his work were portraits of writers and artists, and ominous brooding landscapes and seashores of the British Isles. Threatening skies at dawn and twilight and shadowed interiors were characteristic subjects. Typical, too, were wide-angle, distorting photographs, often strangely lighted and printed for high contrast with the elimination of middle tones. Highly respected for the intensity and power of his images, Brandt is considered one of the pre-eminent photographers to have emerged in England. Writing of his work, which runs clearly counter to the dominant post-war style of straight, unmanipulated photography, Brandt has said, "Photography is still a very new medium and everything must be tried and dare... photography has no rules. It is not a sport. It is the result which counts, no matter how it is achieved

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