Bill Brandt British, b. Germany, 1904-1983
Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg, Germany, Bill Brandt became known for his social documentary photographs of the 1930s and his experimental series of nudes with distorted forms created in the 1940s-50s. Brandt, whose father was British, grew up in Germany and then spent six years in a Swiss tuberculosis sanatorium. In 1927 he continued his treatment in Vienna, where he underwent psychoanalysis. Following his recovery, he became an apprentice photographer in a portrait studio. From Vienna Brandt went to Paris, spending three months in 1929 as an assistant in Man Ray's studio. In 1931 he decided to move to England and work as a freelance photojournalist.
Once in England he began making photographs for a variety of magazines, including Weekly Illustrated, Picture Post, Minotaure, Verve, Lilliput, Life, and Harper's Bazaar. In 1936 he published his first book, The English at Home, which documented the various social types comprised by England's class system. During the 1930s he also traveled to the Midlands and northern England to photograph industrial towns during the depression. At the end of the decade, he produced his second book, A Night in London (1938), commissioned by Arts et Métiers Graphiques, the publishers of Brassaï's Paris de Nuit (1933). That same year Brandt's work was featured in his first exhibition at the Galerie du Chasseur d'Images in Paris. Two years later, at the beginning of World War II, he was hired by the Ministry of Information to photograph bomb shelters and in 1941 went to work for the National Buildings Record documenting historic buildings and monuments endangered by air raids.
After the war, Brandt turned to photographing the landscape and the female nude. For his ongoing nude studies he used a Kodak box camera with an antique wide-angle lens, which produced elongated and distorted images. Photographs from this series were included in his book Perspective of Nudes (1961). During the 1960s Brandt experimented with color photography and collage, and in 1969 was the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, followed by retrospectives at the Royal Photographic Society, Bath (1981), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1985), and the Barbican Art Gallery, London (1993). M.M.