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Bill Brandt: Behind the Camera, 1928-1983

June 15–September 22, 1985

Bill Brandt: Behind the Camera, 1928-1983, an exhibition of approximately 140 photographs, will open at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on June 15, 1985. While the British photographer is recognized internationally as a photographer of enormous stature, the full range of his vintage work has rarely been assembled for exhibition. Bill Brandt (1904-1983) often concentrated on a particular theme, whether working on commission or pursuing a private vision. The exhibition is organized around his major series of photographs, beginning with European street scenes and progressing to his unique record of English life between the wars, images of wartime London, portraits of artists and intellectuals, romantic landscapes of Britain, and his pictorial exploration of the nude. Bill Brandt was born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg, Germany, to an English and German mother. He took up photography in Vienna in 1927, and in 1929 worked for several months in Man Ray's studio in Paris, where he was introduced to the Surrealist circle. Brandt moved to London in 1932 and began his series on British life, published in book form as The English at Home in 1936. He recorded the stark social contrasts--from the fashionable set at the races to impoverished miners' families in Wales--with compassion and wit, observing aspects of class structure with the detached eye of an outsider. In approaching his work for A Night in London, published in 1938, Brandt recognized and exploited the theatrical nature of night photography. His method was deliberate, the subject and composition carefully planned through preparatory drawings and staged scenes. When commissioned by the Home Office to photograph wartime London, Brandt created a poetic vision of the dreamlike monotony of the blackout, and the stifling conditions of the crowded underground air-raid shelters. In the 1940s he also began a haunting series of portraits of writers and artists, including E.M. Forster, Graham Greene, Dylan Thomas, Rene Magritte, and Francis Bacon. Each subject is shown thoughtfully and in isolation; the mood is one of seriousness and reticence. Brandt intensified or lightened the prints, and sometimes greatly retouched them for publication, to achieve the veiled chiaroscuro tones which characterize his portraits. The photographs taken for Literary Britain, published in 1951, are among the most imaginatively constructed landscapes made by a British photographer. Inspired by the writings of England's great literary past, Brandt set about re-creating the feel as well as the look of the settings evoked so powerfully in the works of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Emily Brontë, among others. Among Brandt's most celebrated achievements are his series on the female nude, created between 1945 and 1960. The studies range from twilit, romantic images of nudes in shadowed interiors to female figures under intense natural light on the seashore. The later nudes exploit the erotic nearness of the seashore, unifying the contours of limbs with the smooth-worn antiquity of cliffs and stones. The exhibition is accompanied by a special issue of Aperture magazine. Written by Mark Haworth-Booth, Assistant Keeper of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and David Mellor, Lecturer, History of Art, University of Sussex, England, the volume includes 61 duotones and essays on major aspects of Brandt's work.


Philadelphia Museum of Art
Aperture Foundation, Burden Gallery, New York
Port Washington Public Library, Port Washington, NY
Detroit Institute of Arts
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
New Orleans Museum of Art
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio

Main Building


The Pew Memorial Trust


Michael E. Hoffman
Jan Howard

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