Bill Brandt, the master of modern British photography, redefined the possibilities of the medium in a career spanning half a century. Brandt's country did not end at the English Channel; it existed in an imagination stimulated by Victorian childhood literature; it existed in Paris where he encountered Ezra Pound and the pages of the magazine Minotaure, and in Spain, the seedbed of Surrealism.
These words were spoken by one of Bill Brandt’s oldest friends in a radio tribute in 1984. They are fundamental and true to any accurate portrait of the photographer. Without being aloof or cold, he preserved a barrier of mystery between himself and even his closest friends.
Bill Brandt and Eva came to London together in 1931, travelled to Barcelona where they married in 1932, then established themselves in a flat in Belsize Park, north London. 58 Hillfield Court was a small, first-floor apartment in a new, nondescript brick building.
The first book of photographs by Brandt's great contemporary Brassai was published in 1936. The success of Brassai's Paris du Nuit prompted the publishers Arts et Métiers Graphiques to commission from Bill Brandt a companion volume. A Night in London appeared in 1938, with the subtitle, "The story of a London night in 64 photographs by Bill Brandt."
An important meeting occurred in 1936 when Bill Brandt visited the London offices of the magazine Weekly Illustrated. This periodical, the first popular picture magazine in Britain to exploit the new resources of photography, was founded in 1934 by Stefan Lorant.
Although Bill Brandt's career began, decisively, with his close-up portrait of Ezra Pound in 1928, his subject in the 30's was the social portrait and the urban setting. An exception is a dramatic head of his brother Rolf, lit in the style of expressionist cinema, from the mid-30's.
"Bill Brandt is one of those photographers whose work falls naturally into 'periods.' He cannot take a photograph unless obsessed by a particular pictorial vision, often worked out to the smallest detail . . . Those 'periods' seem to last, as a rule, about five years."
The ninety photographs that make up Perspective of Nudes were the result of a pictorial exploration that Bill Brandt pursued for fifteen years, from 1945 to 1960. Rolf Brandt's fascinating collection of his brother's early, experimental photographs include a solarized nude study inscribed "Wien-London" and dated 1934.
Obscurely and uncannily, all across his photographs, all across their formats and functions, Bill Brandt wrote a fragmentary and fantastic text. It is composed of emptinesses, statues, secret chambers, and children’s books. The phantasms from that text are to be found far beyond most received accounts of him; beyond the compartments of genre and style, in another place, where the imperatives of desire, dream, and phantasy disclose far grander, if darker, schemes.
The English at Home. Introduction by Raymond Mortimer. Batsford, London, 1936. A Night in London. The story of a London night. Country Life, London, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, Paris and Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1938.
Pages 15-23, 27-29, 33, 35, 38-40, 43, 46, 48, 53-61, 63, 66-68, 70, 72, 87, 91,95, 99, courtesy of and reproduced by the kind permission of Mrs. Noya Brandt. Pages 6-11, 14 courtesy of R. A. Brandt. Pages 12, 79, 82, 88 from The English at Home;