Bill Brandt Notes


Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt 3/5/1904 and attended Elmshorn public school in Schleswig Holstein where he became withdrawn and unhappy. at sixteen Brandt was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and as a result was cared for in Davos, Switzerland before treatment in Vienna from 1927 where Dr Schwartzwald encouraged his photography.

‘Bill Brandt: Photographs 1928-83’ highlights that Brandt had a ‘bitter childhood experiences during the First World War’ yet he was not interested in the searching enquiries about himself, wanting to remain an enigma- he wanted to conceal more than his German nationality. It would suggest that Brandt was had repressed memories of his childhood that he wished not to share and to reflect: it could be said that with his detachment to his sitters in his portraiture may be a reflection of his troubled past.

Wilhelm Stekel pyscho-analysed Brandt in Vienna and he documetned patient ‘sexual experiences, with special attention to aberrations and anxieties.’ Stekel took note of dreams and how the subconscious depicted these anxieties for example: a ‘three branched candlestick is a symbol of a life burning and consuming itself’.  As a result, ‘Brandt’s career amounted to one long submission of dreams to an imaginary analyst’ with the influence of artists such as Dali.

I read ‘A statement on Photography’ by Bill Brandt. Here he suggests how he was influenced by moving pictures, that of Dali’s ‘un Chien Andalou’ and Citizen Kane

This sixteen video disturbed me, but at the same time reminded me of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde, when I read an insight to the film, I was suprised to see a quotation from this novel. Interestingly, but not unsurprisingly for Dali, the nature of the film was “to disrupt the mental anxiety of the spectator,” this is done by a recursive form to portray a sort of dream like state where there is a ‘ dislocation of time and space’.

This dislocation can be seen in Brandt’s series Nightwalk (1941) where he took a woman’s literal dream ‘including a Vertigo-like fall down the centre of a spiral staircase and strange ghost-effects produced by multiple printing, the five dream photographs framed by shots of the woman asleep in bed and of her waking.’ Nigel Warburton (Open University).

Nightwalk Series (dream phantasy), c. 1940 Vintage Silver Print, 6.25 x 4.35 in.

Brandt staged nudes; some argued to have sexual brothel connotations. These nudes became more fragmented in ‘perspective of nudes’. When he undertook portrait photography he did ‘not force it [his sitter] to be a picture… [he would] stand apart from it. Then something will happen’. In his archives he describes how ‘I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him’ this suggests a detachment between photographer and sitter which is apparent in his earlier nudes where he stood back and not intruding personal space- this is a very different style to Mapplethorpe. However, he also believes that ‘a good portrait ought to tell something of the subject’s past and suggest something of the future.’

Brandt moved to England and worked for publications including that of Picture Post between 1938-39. 

Brandt was criticised for his collection English at Home for his images were not ‘erotic enough’; however, Brandt was new to England and had a fresh take on the culture, taking more subtle photographs such as ‘Sunday Evening’. By this, Brandt created an honest visual of England. This meant that during WWII, Brandt was asked to photograph ‘Blackout in London’. 

Sunday Evening, 1936, Bill Brandt

Brandt was most famous for his photographic nudes, yet although they can be depicted as sexual, it is in complete contrast to Mapplethorpe where his photography would be a sexual device, creating chemistry. I am beginning to wonder whether it was from Brandt’s childhood than distanced him from his sexual tendencies.

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