Bill Brandt

Hog in Bog, Hortobagy, Hungary

c.1930, later print

Sorry, no image available

Not on display

Bill Brandt 1904–1983
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 285 × 226 mm
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019


Bill Brandt was born into an Anglo-German family in Hamburg. Beginning his career as an apprentice to a portrait photographer in Vienna in 1927, he went on to work in Man Ray’s (1890–1976) Paris studio from 1929–30; he began to acquire a reputation as a major photographer in his own right, with night photography becoming a particular speciality. He moved to London in the early 1930s and Britain became his adopted home. Brandt used black and white photography, and especially its ability to provide strong contrasts of light and shade, to document the social extremes of life in Britain, particularly those of the capital city (see, for example, Tate P15014P15017). In 1936 he published The English at Home, which highlighted stark societal contrasts. The publication A Night in London followed two years later. Brandt also began to contribute to magazines such as Lilliput (1939–45), Picture Post and Harper’s Bazaar. After the Second World War he focused on portraiture, landscape and the nude.

Brandt made the city one of the most frequent subjects for his photography and his images of London in the 1930s demonstrate the anthropological approach he adopted. Photographic historian David Campany has described how, during this key period in his work, his aim was not simply to document: ‘Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life, to what he saw as the deeply unconscious ways in which people inhabit their social roles. For him to photograph these minutiae was not simply to document but to estrange through a heightened sense of atmosphere, theatrical artifice and a dreamlike sensibility.’ (David Campany, ‘The Career of a Photographer, The Career of a Photograph: Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document’, in Making History: Art and Documentary in Britain from 1929 to Now, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 2006, p.54.)

Although Brandt was overwhelmingly a photographer of cities and social encounters in his early career, by the 1940s his engagement with the landscape expanded. Hog in Bog, Hortobagy, Hungary c.1930 (Tate P15025) is an early landscape of the ‘puszta’, a vast area of plains and wetlands in eastern Hungary, that Brandt took on a trip to Hungary with his Hungarian wife, Eva. Statue of Neptune, Tresco, Scilly Isles 1934 (Tate P15019) is from a group of images of depicting salvaged ship figureheads in the Valhalla gardens on the island of Tresco. ‘Neptune’ was salvaged from the wreck of the SS Thames, which foundered in 1827. Four of Brandt’s photographs from the Scilly Isles were published as part of the story ‘Au Cimitière des Anciennes Galères’ in the Winter 1935 issue of the surrealist journal Minotaure. Maiden Castle, Dorset (The Western Entrance), 1945 1945 9 (Tate P15022) is from a series of photographs, commissioned by Lilliput magazine, of places described in the novels of Thomas Hardy. A selection of eight of them were published in the May 1946 issue under the title ‘Thomas Hardy’s Wessex’.

Further reading
Bill Jay and Nigel Warburton, Brandt: The Photography of Bill Brandt, London 1999.
Paul Delany, Bill Brandt: A Life, London 2004.
Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2013.

Helen Delaney
April 2019

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