Bill Brandt (1904 – 1983)

Bill Brandt was originally born on May 3rd, 1904 in Hamburg, Germany but later rose to prominence in the milieu of great British photographers.

After his schooling in Germany, Brandt studied photography and moved to Paris in the late 20s, working briefly in Man Ray’s studio. Though he only worked there for three months, he was profoundly influenced by the Surrealist movement, which would inspire his series of distorted nudes later in life. Brandt was also deeply inspired by Parisian photographer, Eugène Atget, whose influence is also evident in much of Brandt’s documentary work.

In the 1930’s Bill Brandt would go on to photograph for various magazines, such as Lilliput, Picture Post, Minotaure, Paris Magazine, and Harper’s Bazaar. He soon ventured to Great Britain, documenting daily British life. When World War II broke out, Brandt worked for the British Home Office as a staff photographer, where he captured ghostly images of war-torn buildings. His second book, A Night in London, exhibited scenes of the city at night with no flash, highlighting the effects of the blackout.

After the war Brandt remained in Britain and photographed the landscape associated with English literature called Literary Britain in 1951. A decade later he would publish one of his most iconic series titled Perspective of Nudes. This study of the human form was taken with a seventy-year-old wooden Kodak with no shutter and a pinhole aperature set to infinity. The combination of the wide angle used to capture extreme close ups of limbs, against jagged cliffs and rocky beaches in the background resulted in highly distorted, surreal composition.

“The camera is much more than a recording apparatus. It is a medium via which messages reach us from another world.’” said Orson Welles.

In 1969, The Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective for Brandt’s work, with Edward Steichen and John Szarkowski playing parts in the production. Brandt received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in London and was named as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.

Bill Brandt suffered from diabetes for over 40 years and on December 20th, 1983, he passed away.