From now through July, prints by Bill Brandt, one of the most widely regarded photographers of the 20th century, will be on display at the Yale Center for British Art.
The exhibit, “Bill Brandt: A Retrospective,” features 155 gelatin silver prints from the Bill Brandt Archive in London. The exhibit spans the more than 50 years of Brandt’s work, from his early days documenting stark social contrasts to his later work using distortions of the human form. The exhibit also represents a wide variety of his themes, including nudes, depictions of London during World War II, particularly during the Blitz, and portraits.
“These are prints that Brandt himself kept and worked on. His hand work is evident on the prints,” said Amy Meyers, director of the British Art Center. “It’s quite an extraordinary exhibition for us, it’s particularly provocative.”
Before his death in 1983, Brandt photographed Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, Pablo Picasso and Rene Magritte.
“Along with Henry Moore, he is one of a handful of 20th-century British artists that really have an international reputation,” said Scott Wilcox, curator of prints and drawings for the British Art Center and the in-house curator for the exhibit. “His particular attitude toward photography is not simply in the purest sense, his idea is that the taking of the photo is just a step in the process of creating an imaging.”
Wilcox explained that Brandt simply would not accept a print if he did not like the way it had turned out. He would manipulate it by flopping the print, using several prints in a collage, painting in or drawing in changes with pen or pencil, or by using other means to transform the photograph into exactly what he wanted.
“Photography is still a very new medium and everything is allowed and everything should be tried, ” Brandt once wrote. “Photography has no rules. It is not a sport. It is the result which counts, no matter how it is achieved.”
Many of Brandt’s works were originally meant to be part of parts of other compilations of work, and thus were not designed to stand alone.
“We see these as works of art,” Wilcox said. “They were really conceived as illustrations in either magazines or books.”
The British Art Center is the final U.S. venue for the exhibit’s world tour before it returns to London. The exhibit was originally curated by John-Paul Kernot and is being circulated by Curatorial Assistance in Los Angeles.
Brandt was born in Germany to Russian parents, eventually living and working in both Paris and London. Much of his photography is influenced by the difficulties of the Depression-era industrial north of England, and by the social affects of the war.
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