Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt was born in London in 1904. The family moved to Germany but Brandt, suffering from tuberculosis, attended a sanitarium in Switzerland. Leaving the hospital in 1929, Brandt went to France where he studied with the surrealist artist, Man Ray in Paris.

Brandt took up photography and his work first appeared in the Paris Magazine in 1930. During the Depression he returned to Britain and his photographs appeared in the Daily Chronicle. He also published books of photographs including The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938).

During the Second World War Brandt recorded life during the Blitz and became one of the world's leading photojournalism. In 1948 he published The Camera in London.

After the war Brandt lost interest in documentary photography and developed his ideas on expressionism and surrealism. His photographs were often strangely lighted and were printed for high contrast with the elimination of middle tones. His subjects included nudes, landscape and seashores. Bill Brandt died in 1983.

Primary Sources

(1) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

Besides my work on Picture Post, I had also since 1941 been responsible for Lilliput, the pocket magazine started by Stefan Lorant to which some six years earlier I had vainly tried to contribute in the hope of earning three guineas. Lilliput was a delightful little publication, well printed, with an attractive coloured cover always drawn by the same artist, Walter Trier. One of its best-known features was the 'doubles' - two look-alike photographs on facing pages, a pouter pigeon

opposite a cadet on parade with his chest thrown out; Hitler giving the Nazi salute to a small dog with its paw raised; a bear opposite a publican with a pear-shaped face.

Bill Brandt, today a venerated father-figure in photography, took many picture series for Lilliput, photographing young

poets, taking pictures on film sets, in pubs, in Soho, in the London parks. One day in the summer of 1942 we suggested to him that these wartime nights offered a unique opportunity to photograph London entirely by moonlight. Because of the blackout there was no street lighting, no car headlamps, no light of any kind; never in history had there been such a chance, and once the war ended it would never come again. He returned to us weeks later with a beautiful set of mysterious photographs out of which we made ten pages. He had been obliged to give exposures of up to half an hour, and had once found himself suddenly surrounded by police. An old lady had seen him standing beside his camera mounted on its tripod, and dialled 999 to say there was a man in the road with a dangerous machine.