Masters of Photography: Bill Brandt

Hello Photoion fans. Today we’ve got another instalment in our “Masters of Photography” series; where we look at the lives of some of the most famous and influential photographers through the years.

This time we’re looking at the work of Bill Brandt, who is wildly regarded as one of the most important figures in British photography in the 20th century.

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Brandt was actually born in Germany in 1904 and grew up there during WWI. During the war, Brandt’s father was imprisoned for being British, despite having lived in Germany since he was a young boy. This in part led to Brandt later casting off his German nationality and telling people he was actually born in south London.

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It was 1933 before Brandt finally moved to London, after battling tuberculosis in his youth. After arriving in London, Brandt began to document British life with his camera. This level of observation and such a close look at British life through the lens was uncommon at the time. Brandt published his work on British life in 2 books; The English Home in 1936 and A Night in London in 1938.

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His work documenting British life led to him being hired by the Ministry of Information during WWII to photograph life in the Underground bomb shelters during the Blitz. These images told the story of the average citizen during the war.

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Much of Brandt’s London work is a fantastic showcase for Street Photography, giving a snapshot of every-day life in London in the first half of the 20th century.

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Most of Brandt’s work contains excellent contrast of dark and light images. He commonly captured his subjects against very dark backgrounds such as shadowy buildings or parks; and this contrast between the bright subject and dark background gives his images an immediate impact.

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One of the areas where this is most successful is in his nude works. While there are some traditional nude photography images among Brandt’s collection, the most interesting pieces play with shape, placing just an elbow, a knee, or a hip in the frame and letting the suggestion of more – of what’s not shown – tell the story.

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Brandt has been such an influential figure in British photography that in 2010 a Blue Plaque – a permanent sign signalling a site of historic significance – was installed at his home in London.

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