Bill Brandt (British, May 2, 1904–December 20, 1983) was a photographer famous for his photojournalism work documenting aspects of British life. Although he was born in Hamburg, Germany, he disowned his German heritage and said that he was born in London. In 1929, he started his photography career in France. The country was a leader in the movement to use photography as an artistic statement instead of just a documentary endeavor. While he was in Paris, Brandt was influenced by the work of Man Ray (American, August 27, 1890–November 18, 1976), and studied at his studio.

Brandt returned to England in 1931, and took up photojournalism. His main interest was the varied socio-economic contrasts that he found among the British people. Brandt published two books about these photographs: The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938). One of his best series is a set of pictures showing coal miners from northern Great Britain during the Depression. Coal Searcher Going Home to Jarrow is the most well-known of the series.

After World War II, Brandt’s style shifted back to the artistic, Expressionist style that he had learned as a young man. He focused on landscapes, nudes, and portraits. Portrait of a Young Girl is still widely reproduced, and Brandt said that he felt its technique may have inspired the film, Citizen Kane. Brandt admired the work of Edward Weston (American, 1886–1958) and Orson Welles (American, 1915–1985). Taking a cue from their words, he liked to use older cameras that did not mimic human vision capabilities, and he often employed wide-angled lenses, especially when he photographed nudes. These works are collected in Perspective of Nudes (1961).

A sampling of Brandt’s overall best works are showcased in Shadow of Light (1966). The artist was honored with a huge retrospective gallery display at London's Victoria and Albert Museum in 2004. His Kensington home displays an English Heritage Blue Plaque, a rare achievement for a photographer. Brandt died on December 20, 1983.

Timeline

1904
Born in Hamburg, Germany
1927
Travelled to Vienna, where he was taken up by Dr Eugenie Schwarzwald
1930
Assisted Man Ray in Paris for several months
1931
Moved to London
1932
Married Eva Boros
1934
Settled, with wife, in Belsize park, north London
1937
Visited the industrial north of England for the first time
1938
'The Perfect Parlourmaid' appeared first in Verve magazine and then in Picture Post
1938
Brandt's second book, A Night in London, was published in London and Paris
1983
Died after a short illness

Exhibitions

2013
Shadow and Light, MOMA, New York, USA
2008
Private and Public: Class, personality, Politics, and Landscape in British Photography, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, USA
Photographs by Bill Brandt: A Sense of Wonder, MFAH - Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA
2007
Oog/Eye, Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
A Selection of Exceptional Vintage Photographs, Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, USA
VIP, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
2006
Busy Going Crazy, the Sylvio Perlstein Collection, La Maison Rouge, Paris, France
Making History - Art and Documentary in Britain from 1929 to Now, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, England
Bill Brandt - A Retrospective, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, USA
2005
Magritte Prive, BOZAR - Palais des Beaux-Arts/ Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Brussels, Belgium
De la comtesse De Castiglione a Cindy Sherman, Galerie de France, Paris, France
2004
Few Are Chosen: Street Photography and the Book, 1936-1966, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
The Artist Observed - Portraits and Self-Portraits, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, USA
2003
Flesh Tones - 100 Years of the Nude, Robert Mann Gallery, New York, USA
Looking at Photographs - 125 photographs from the Muesum of Modern Art, New York, USA, The State Hermiatge Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Bill Branft: A Retrospective, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA
2002
World War II: Vintage Photographs, Lee Gallery, Winchester, USA
Der Akt in der Kunst des 20, Jahrhunderts, Kunsthallein Emden, Emden
2001
The Fine Art of Photography, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland
Known and Unknown, Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, USA
1998
In the Cold: Photography 1945 - 1965, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, SA