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Parlourmaid and Underparlourmaid ready to serve dinner, 1936

Parlourmaid and Underparlourmaid ready to serve dinner, 1936

The photographs of Bill Brandt (British, 1904-1983) range from documentary to surreal. An acknowledged master of 20th century photography, Brandt was working in the streets of London's East End when a mutual friend introduced him to Man Ray. Brandt moved to Paris in 1929 to work as Man Ray's assistant and quickly became interested in the work of Eugene Atget and the surrealist Luis Bunuel, among others.

When he returned to London in the early 1930s, Brandt shifted back to documentation. He worked as a freelance photographer for the Weekly Illustrated and recorded the British class structure for what would become The English at Home, an influential examination of the human condition and English socio-economic divisions.  Brandt's expressive photographs of unemployed coal miners after a hunger strike, shocked and moved the public.

Brandt's documentation of London continued with the outbreak of WWII. He His series entitled, London by Moonlight recorded the city during the Blitz. Brandt followed crowds during the nightly air raids and produced eerily beautiful images of the makeshift bomb shelters and the people who fled to them. In the early days of the war, he photographed buildings for the Home Office and the National Buildings Record so that important structures could be accurately rebuilt in case of destruction; he was soon charged with providing a complete survey of bomb damage.

After the war, Brandt made a drastic stylistic change. A highly poetic sensibility emerged in his work and he claimed to have lost his taste for reportage. He began a highly personal series of interpretations of the human body. Using a second-hand box camera with a wide-angle lens, Brandt capitalized on the accidental and used perspective as a tool to manipulate form. He turned female bodies into imaginary landscapes and made physical abstractions of the people and places he photographed. Bill Brandt's photographs are found in many public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris), the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and the Art Institute of Chicago.