Atget Photography

Bill Brandt

British, 1905-1983

Nonartists often misunderstand the nature of artistic tradition, and imagine it to be something similar to a fortress, within which eternal verity is protected from the present. In fact it is something more useful and interesting, and less secure. It exists in the minds of artists, and consists of their collective memory of what has been accomplished so far. Its function is to mark the starting point for each day's work. Occasionally it is decided that tradition should also define the work's end result. At this point the tradition dies.

For purposes of approximate truth, it might be said that photographic tradition died in England sometime around 1905 --- coincidentally the year in which Bill Brandt was born. Brandt spent much of his youth on the Continent, and in the late twenties went to Paris to study with Man Ray. There he also discovered the photographs of Atget and the works of the French Surrealist film-makers. His own work already possessed a strongly surrealist character --- not the intellectually playful irrationalisme of his teacher Man Ray, but a mordant, poetic romanticism suggestive of de Chirico and Dore.

When Brandt returned to London in the thirties, England had forgotten its rich photographic past, and showed no signs of seeking a photographic present. In the forty years since, Brandt has worked virtually alone, with only intermittent contact with the main channels of contemporary photography. Such isolation can starve all but the most independent talents, but for these it can provide a sanctuary where radical visions can develop undisturbed. Brandt's work has been consistently separate from the photographic consensus of the moment: reflective when it should have been militant, romantic when it should have been skeptical, experimental and formal when it should have been factual.

In the years following his return to England, Brandt concentrated on photographing his countrymen, of all classes and conditions. These pictures are moving and strange; they express both sympathy and tranquil detachment, as though Brandt were photographing something that had existed long ago. Though unsparingly frank, his pictures seem to refer less to the moment described than to the issues of role, tenacity, courage, and survival.

from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski

Bill Brandt / recommended books
Brandt : The Photography of Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt, one of the most prolific 20th-century photographers, is beautifully represented by this volume, which contains nearly 400 of his black-and-white photographs.

Behind the Camera

From working class families to bomb-damaged London, literary portraits and sculptural nudes, Brandt applied the same surrealist slant to all of his subjects... The book contains nearly 100 duotone images, each offering the signature somber air of Brandt, and every section introduced by Hayworth-Booth.

Bill Brandt: Photographs 1928-1983

This retrospective review of Brandt's work, edited with an introduction by Ian Jeffrey, is published on the occasion of a major exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, London. Its six sections cover every aspect of his art, from the early sociological studies to the late nudes. Many celebrated images are included, but others have never been seen in book form before.

Bill Brandt quotes
  • 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.

Atget Photography Store