Posts Tagged ‘British social documentary photography

22
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt’ at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 29th August 2021

Curator: Ramón Esparza (University of the Basque Country)

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'St. Paul's Cathedral in the moonlight' 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
St. Paul’s Cathedral in the moonlight
1942
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt: master of photography, master of reinvention

“I’m 70% sure this was a reality not a dream”

In 12 years of writing this archive, this is the first chance I have had to assemble a posting and really think about the work of Bill Brandt, one of the most significant and inventive photographer of the 20th century. Brandt exhibitions are few and far between.

Son of a British father and German mother, Bill Brandt was born in Hamburg in 1904. As an adolescent he contracted tuberculosis and spent much of his youth in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. In 1927 he travelled to Vienna, “to see a lung specialist and then decided to stay and find work in a photography studio. There, in 1928, he met and made a successful portrait of the poet Ezra Pound, who subsequently introduced Brandt to the American-born, Paris-based photographer Man Ray. Brandt arrived in Paris to begin three months of study as an apprentice at the Man Ray Studio in 1929 … his work from this time shows the influence of André Kertész and Eugène Atget, as well as Man Ray and the Surrealists.”1

“For any young photographer at that time, Paris was the centre of the world. Those were the exciting early days when the French poets and surrealists recognised the possibilities of photography.” ~ Bill Brandt

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Having visited London in 1928, upon his return to London, in 1931, Brandt was well versed in the language of photographic modernism. In 1933 Brandt settled permanently in North London with his wife. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Brandt Anglicised his name and disowned his German background and would claim he was born in South London. “He adopted Britain as his home and it became the subject of his greatest photographs.” Here is his first reinvention: the obfuscation of his German heritage, but he could not hide that heritage in his photographs.

As a photojournalist working for magazines such as News Chronicle, Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, Harper’s Bazaar and Picture Post, Brandt documented all levels of British society. In his first book, The English at Home (1936), “comprising sixty-three photographs, Brandt traversed the country to make a pictorial survey of sorts, moving across the social classes, and between rural life and the urban city.”2 In the book Brandt pairs upper and lower class photographs across double page spreads, mixing joy (girl dancing in the street) with sobriety (the parlourmaids). As David Campany observes in his excellent writing on the artist, “There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”3

“The extreme social contrast, during those years before the war, was, visually, very inspiring for me. I started by photographing in London, the West End, the suburbs, the slums.” ~ Bill Brandt

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The book was not a success. Much like Robert Frank’s The Americans (published in France in 1958), another book by an émigré photographing as an outsider a foreign country, the British did not understand the book and probably did not like the mirror that was being held up to their society – much as the Americans hated Frank’s book for the pointed insights its probing images revealed of their fractured society, which had never been shown to them before. Campany notes, “In the 1930s Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life, with what he saw as the deeply unconscious ways people inhabit their social roles and class positions. 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. As an outsider he seemed to see English behaviour as bordering on passive automatism.”4

In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the photographs would have made the English feel very uncomfortable. Through their social commentary and poetic resonance, through their direct, modernist gaze and Surrealist dances (the women washing the blackened coal miner, a man sheltering in a coffin), Brandt squeezes (conflates?) documentary and art together, seeing the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Through reinvention he recasts the very nature of his characters, finding out what else is essential in the photographs, challenging the viewer to understand the complexities of the image as it moves across time and from documentary to art. Often this left the viewer perplexed and grasping at the mystery, the unknown.

Other bodies of work and books followed. In 1937, Brandt visited the North of England for the first time, photographing the desperate plight of the poor scavenging for coal on the slag-heaps. In 1938 Brandt published A Night in London which was based on Paris de Nuit (1936) by Brassaï, photographing pubs, common lodging houses at night, theatres, Turkish baths, prisons and people in their bedrooms. By 1939, he was back in London, photographing the blackout and people sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground.

“In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since.”~ Bill Brandt

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And so it went, on through Literary Britain (1951) which combined brooding, atmospheric landscapes and photographs of William Wordsworth’s room at Dove Cottage, Shaw’s Corner, Glamis Castle from Macbeth, and the scene of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment at Reading Gaol opposite British poetry and prose; from the 1940s onwards, portraits of the notable and creative, made during the 1960s using a wide-angle lens; and perspectives on nudes made from 1944 onwards using a 1931 Kodak mahogany and brass camera with a wide-angle lens used by the police for crime scene records, which allowed him to see, he said, ‘like a mouse, a fish or a fly’.

“The nudes reveal Brandt’s intimate knowledge of the École de Paris – particularly Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse and Arp – together with his admiration for Henry Moore. He published Perspective of Nudes in 1961. It featured nudes in domestic interiors and studios, and on the beaches of East Sussex and northern and southern France. He used a Superwide Hasselblad for the beach photographs. In 1977-8 Brandt added further nudes, published in Nudes, 1945-80.”5

Through all of this there is the reinvention… reinvention of the portrait where the sitter is now part of the whole scenario (the surroundings), reinvention of the landscape where the landscape emerges from chthonic darkness, and reinvention of the nude where Brandt transplants Brassai’s Distortions into domestic interiors and exterior beaches – where the Surrealist, distorted, enigmatic fragment, like an ear or a big toe, comes to stand for the whole embedded in an alien landscape. Finally, there was the big reinvention in the 1960s, where Brandt began to reprint his earlier photojournalist images with a much harsher contrast (see various comparison images in this posting) in order to enhance their (Surrealist) art credentials and keep them relevant in an Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art world.

As David Campany states, “In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic… While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white.”6

These are the images that are now famous, these graphic reinventions of the work and the Self. The reinvention of the old into the new. Through rethinking, recalculating and reimagining his old photographs and how they looked (“the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time”), Brandt opened up his way of seeing and opened up new matter… ‘in rerum natura‘: in the nature of things; in the realm of actuality; in existence. Perhaps never before in the history of photography had the negative just been a step in the production of an ever changing image.

It was in the totality of this new work that his eloquent eye emerged. To me Brandt is like a Zen master. Whether it be socio-documentary, portrait, landscape or nude, it was his ability to focus on a particular subject at any one time – to concentrate on seeing subjects and ideas clearly – that became a hallmark of his later artistic creation. Through bodies of work that mix reality and dream the artist challenges straight photographic seeing in order for us to understand that enigmatic fragments can stand alone from each other while at the same time combining to make the whole. While A snicket in Halifax (1937, below) may not be present in Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow (1937, below), it is when they combine that the circle is closed. It is in the entirety of his imaged (imagined) world, in the entirety of his vision, when all fragments combine, that Brandt emphasises that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Bill Brandt.” Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014 on the MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  2. David Campany. “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006
  3. Ibid.,
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Anonymous. “Bill Brandt Biography,” archived from the original on the V&A website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  6. Campany, op cit.,

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Many thankx to Fundación Mapfre for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Fundación MAPFRE is presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (1904-1983), considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The exhibition brings together 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of five decades, made use of almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

 

 

“Each of Brandt’s well-known images aims for a tight formal organisation, its content given dramatic charge and dense psychological resonance. As documents they aim unapologetically to exceed visual description. In this sense what served him ill as a photojournalist was just what predisposed his images toward posterity via art. …

In the 1950s he continued to work professionally but concentrated on the more established genres of portraiture and landscape. In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic. It was a technique that looked backward through German expressionist cinema to art photography’s Pictorialist preference for deep shadows and chiaroscuro, but it also connected with the emerging Pop sensibility.

While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white. …

The reprinting of Parlourmaid and under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner was never too harsh. Brandt knew well that the force of this photograph resided in its details as much as its bold graphic organisation. Shadow of Light even improved on its past reproductions allowing new layers of meaning to emerge. …

While some meanings of Brandt’s photograph have been buried as the image has moved across time and from documentary to art, new meanings have come to the surface, meanings entirely dependent on art’s demand for superior qualities of reproduction.

As with many photographers who were discovered by a wider audience later in life, Brandt found himself regarded as a ‘figure from the past’ and as a contemporary artist at the same time. Layered on top of this was what looked like a shift from documentarist to artist. The reality, as always, was more complicated. At his best Brandt was a ‘documentary artist’ with all the paradoxes and interpretative difficulties that entails. There could never be any simple distinction between his artistry and his documentary description. The two are inextricable and give us no clear answers. And in the end these tensions are at the heart of his work and its success.”

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David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Death and the industrialist, Barcelona' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Death and the industrialist, Barcelona
1932
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

An apprentice in the studio of Man Ray and influenced in his origins by artists such as Brassaï, André Kertész or Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt (Hamburg, 1904 – London, 1983), one of the founders of modern photography, conceives the photographic language as a powerful means of contemplation and understanding of reality, but always from a primacy of aesthetic considerations over documentaries. Published in the press or in books, some of his photographs quickly became iconic pieces, indispensable to understanding mid-century English society.

His work also expresses a permanent attraction for the strange , for that which causes as much attraction as it is strange and causes unease. His aesthetics are thus close to the concept of “the sinister”, understood as something opposite to the idea of ​​the familiar, of the usual. This element will act as a plot line for a professional and artistic production that, at first, seems erratic and dispersed.

His late work shows a more experimental facet, a search for innovation through cropping and framing, present above all in nude images.

The exhibition brings together 186 photographs made by Bill Brandt himself, who throughout the almost five decades of his career did not stop addressing any of the great genres of the photographic discipline: social reporting, portraiture, nude and landscape .

The tour, divided into six sections (“First photographs”, “Up and down”, “Portraits”, “Described landscapes”, “Nudes” and “In Praise of imperfection”), tries to show how all these aspects – in the that identity and the concept of “the sinister” become protagonists – they come together in the work of this eclectic artist who was considered, above all, a flâneur, a “stroller” in terms similar to those of his admired Eugene Atget, whom he always considered one of his teachers. One hundred and eighty-six photographs that are complemented by writings, some of his cameras and various documentation (among which the interview he gave to the BBC shortly before his death stands out), as well as illustrated publications of the time. All thanks to the courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

 

Four keys

Surrealist beginnings

After starting his foray into photography in Vienna, where he made the famous portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt went to Paris to enter as an assistant, for a short period of time, in the studio of Man Ray, which prompted him to blend in with the surrealist atmosphere of the French capital, which will permeate all of his work from then on. This influence, together with that of his admiration for Eugène Atget, the photographer who documented “old Paris” and for whom Fundación MAPFRE also organised an exhibition in 2011, led to images where the disturbing was already making an appearance: street scenes and Parisian nights are some of the most frequent motifs in the artist’s images during this period.

 

Concealment of German heritage

Together with his partner and future wife, Eva Boros, he also made numerous trips to the Hungarian steppe, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona, ​​before moving to London in 1934. It was in this city when Brandt got rid of his German roots, eliminating all reference to them, a concealment due to the growing animosity towards Germany that followed the rise of Nazism. Brandt invented a British birth, creating an artistic corpus in which the United Kingdom that is at the core of his identity.

 

The portrait

After having made several portraits in the early days of his career, starting in the 1940s – a period in which he worked for magazines such as Picture Post, Liliput and Harper’s Bazaar – Bill Brandt approached this genre in a professional way. Some of the portraits represented a break with tradition, such as those that appeared in the aforementioned Lilliput in 1941, illustrating the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most representative faces of the writers and poets of the Auden Generation.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In his introduction to Camera in London, the book on the British capital published in 1948, Bill Brandt noted: ‘I consider it essential that the photographer make his own copies and enlargements. The final effect of the image depends to a large extent on these operations, and only the photographer knows what he intends. For the artist, work in the laboratory was essential and, at the beginning of his career, he learned a whole range of artisan techniques: from magnification to enlargement, the use of brushes, scrapers or other tools.’ This manual retouching sometimes gave his photographs that somewhat crude aspect that can be associated with the aforementioned Freudian concept of the “unheimlich”: the sinister.

Text from the Fundación Mapfre website translated from the Spanish by Google Translate

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Bond Street hatter's show-case' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Bond Street hatter’s show-case
1934
30.48 x 23.50 cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that is directly reflected in his works.

This aspect combines with the photographer’s interest in psychoanalysis, which he underwent during his youth in Vienna. A few years earlier, in 1919, Sigmund Freud had published the essay Das Unheimliche in which he analysed this term, which is generally translated as “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease. Almost all Brandt’s photographs, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters. The exhibition also reveals the relationship between Brandt’s images and Dada and Surrealism. This interest is reflected in clear references to psychoanalytical issues, expressed through increasingly sombre tones and an obsession with collecting found objects.

The exhibition is completed with a range of documentation, a number of Brandt’s cameras and examples of the illustrated press of the period that published some of his most iconic images. All this has been made possible courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Press release from the Fundación Mapfre website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East Durham coal-searchers' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East Durham coal-searchers
1937
25.24 x 20.16cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

East Durham coal-searchers near Henworth, 1937. Coal searchers on slag heap searching for bits of coal 1940s.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Coal-Miner's Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Coal-Miner’s Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt

Considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century and one of the artists who, together with Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, laid the foundations of modern photography, Bill Brandt’s oeuvre can be considered an eclectic one, reflecting a career of nearly five decades during which he encompassed almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photography always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection. It can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were among the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. It was at this point that he assimilated the ideas circulating in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. His images of this initial period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him even though he never actively participated in any of the historic avant-garde groups.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always combined.

Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.

Ramón Esparza, curator

 

Early photographs

Following his apprenticeship as a photographer in Vienna, Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a brief period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio, an activity that allowed him to move in the city’s Surrealist circles. Nonetheless, his photographs of this period are closer to those of his admired Eugène Atget. Brandt followed Atget, becoming a stroller or flâneur whose images of Parisian nightlife and street scenes anticipate his subsequent work and possess an already palpable sense of unease.

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was in London that Brandt shed his German origins and created a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Dressmaker's dummy, Paris' 1929

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Dressmaker’s dummy, Paris
1929
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

During his years in Paris Brandt established connections with the Surrealist circle and with groups of photographers who aimed to make the camera both a means of expression and of earning a living. He never followed the principal trends and focused his attention on the daily life of the suburbs rather than on events of the day. Brandt’s photographs of this period reveal how he increasingly assimilated Surrealist concepts into his way of seeing. This dressmaker’s dummy found on the street is a metaphor for the idea of the double. Other images from these years, such as the hot air balloon flying over the skies of Paris, allow his early work to be seen as a type of catalogue of the principal themes of Surrealism.

 

Upstairs downstairs

The growing antipathy on the part of the British towards Nazi Germany meant that many immigrants who had arrived from the latter country changed their name. Brandt went even further than this as he completely concealed his origins and for more than twenty-five years passed himself off as a British citizen.

The 1930s was the decade of the great social protest movements and of strikes over working conditions following the 1929 financial crash. It was within this context that in 1936 Brandt published his first book, The English at Home, produced in a wide, album format. He employed a design particularly favoured by Central European graphic publications based on the combination of opposites in order to achieve a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. With these double-page spreads Brandt aimed to juxtapose two opposing social social classes, thus generating two parallel narrative discourses without mixing them together.

Following the outbreak of World War II Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information. It was at this point that he produced two of his most famous series of images: his photographs of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters; and his images of the city at ground level, showing a ghostly London lit only by the moon as protection against the air raids. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Couple in Peckham' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Couple in Peckham
1936
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Following in the wake of Brassaï and the success of his book Paris de nuit (1932), Brandt began to elaborate his own version of London at night. To do this he made regular use of friends and relatives who posed for him to create the scene he wished to photograph. In this case the “accosted” woman is his sister-in-law Ester Brandt and the man in the hat is his brother Rolf. The image allows for different interpretations but the reference to the genre of crime thrillers or simply to prostitution is clear.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The 1930s were economically harsh and politically turbulent years in Europe. The 1929 financial crash led the United Kingdom to close its mines and steelworks, resulting in unemployment rising to more than 2.5 million people. Activities such as collecting pieces of coal from mining waste on the beach became a way of life for many families. Brandt’s photograph shows one of these former miners, exhausted after an unproductive day’s labour and pushing his bicycle loaded with a sack of coal, the result of his efforts.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933 printed later
23.81 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

This photograph was taken for a reportage published in Picture Post on 29 July 1939 with the title “The Perfect Parlourmaid” [but it never appeared in the Picture Post photo story of that name in July 1939]. Following his habitual practice, Brandt turned to his own family, in this case making use of his uncle Henry’s house. Pratt the parlourmaid waits in the dining room for the family members and their guests to be seated for dinner before starting to serve the food and attend the diners. This could be a classic image of social documentary photography except for the fact that Brandt very probably sat down at the table with the rest of the family after taking his shot. The image, however, reveals far more. The faces and poses of the two maids convey the difference between the gaze of the senior parlourmaid, which suggests both experience and assimilation of her social role, and that of her assistant, which seems to wander vaguely around the room.

 

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Mark Haworth-Booth cites Henderson in his introduction to the second edition of Brandt’s book Shadow of Light, Gordon Fraser, London 1977, p. 17.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1933

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“… Brandt’s parlourmaids image is unusual in that something of those social contrasts is at play within its frame and so the image doesn’t lend itself to juxtaposition in the same way.

We see a dressed dinner table of a well-to-do household and the attendant women. The head parlourmaid seems at first glance to express a stern resentment mixed with weariness and professional discipline, but there is a kind of blankness about her too. Her junior has the vacant expression of an adolescent, not yet able to grasp the social forces that will shape her, perhaps. A reading of the image made by the photographer Nigel Henderson is similar but more pointed:

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Rhetorically, this is an image of doubles and differences. Its economy of form and content forces us to see in opposites, tapping into and reinforcing a general understanding of the social structures of class and service. It is as barbed as The English at Home gets. There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”

David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now, 2006

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt
1940
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Isidore Ducasse, who used the grandiloquent nom de plume of “the Comte de Lautréamont” for his poetic output, wrote one of the most frequently quoted definitions of Surrealist beauty: “As beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Locating incongruence and transforming it into a work of art was one of Surrealism’s key strategies. By adding a dash of well-developed humour to this formula Brandt brought off the recipe with aplomb. At the height of the war, with German bombing raids nightly assailing a London whose inhabitants took shelter in the Underground and in basements, Bill Brandt photographed this man. Poor and working-class, to judge from his appearance, he is seen peacefully asleep in an open tomb in a crypt in clear defiance of death itself and of the terror it supposedly arouses.

 

Portraits

As a portraitist, a genre to which he devoted himself professionally from 1943, Bill Brandt considered that the photographer’s aim should be that of capturing a “suspended” moment rather than just the appearance: “I think a good portrait ought to tell something about a subject’s past and suggest something about their future”; in other words, achieving an image that asks questions and raises issues about both the sitter and the viewer. Some of Brandt’s portraits mark a break from tradition, such as the ones published in the magazine Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which includes images of some of the leading names of the Auden generation.

Brandt subsequently began to distort the space in his portraits, for example Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963). He also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

“I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. 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.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London
1963
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

One of several portraits of Francis Bacon by Brandt, here the photographer used the camera he had bought for his nudes on the beach. The notably wide angle lens, which produces a sense of space distorted in depth, and the chosen moment, just after sunset with the last light of day blending with the artificial light, give the scene a strange “atmosphere” (a term Brandt considered fundamental in his images). The familiar setting of an English park becomes disturbing with the dark sky, the curiously small and bent street light and Bacon, either indifferent or engaged, who turns his back on it all.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire' 1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire
1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The friendship and professional relations between Bill Brandt and the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth was a lifelong one and they frequently collaborated. Moore accompanied Brandt on his visits to the night shelters in the London Underground and drew while his friend took photographs. Their work is being exhibited at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2020. The mutual influence between the two artists is evident in this portrait of Moore alongside one of his sculptures. The biomorphic forms that Moore has created from the wood recall those of Brandt’s nudes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Graham Greene in his flat, St James's Street, London' 1948

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Graham Greene in his flat, St James’s Street, London
1948
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The writer Graham Greene appears in this photograph next to a window which gives onto the interior courtyard of his London flat. Brandt, however, transformed a view of a simple courtyard into a type of labyrinth of lines in which it is difficult to discern what belongs to the window, what to the triangular shape located immediately next to Greene and what to the construction in the background. This confusion, the repetition of triangles and the mixture of lines can be seen as mimicking the author’s complex plots in his novels, while the harsh light that illuminates his face, falling from the upper right downwards, imbues his figure with a theatrical aura of mystery.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Georges Braque
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The eye of…

In the early 1960s Brandt embarked on a photographic series in which he reduced the sitter’s face to a foreground shot of one of the eyes. The subjects photographed in this manner were some of the leading visual artists of the day: Ernst, Braque, Vasarely, Moore, Tàpies, Arp, Dubuffet and Giacometti. The series aims to make the viewer reflect on the role of the gaze in art. Once the imperative of resemblance is rejected, what makes a painting powerful and interesting is the artist’s gaze, the way he or she has to look at and represent reality, or simply to produce a visible reality that does not refer to any other, as in the case of Victor Vasarely and Jean Arp. The camera, that glass eye which reflected the world in the 20th century, is used here to depict the instrument through which artists have seen and interpreted that world. To be exact, however, it should be acknowledged that both the camera and the eye are mere tools and that the essence of the process takes place “further back”, in the mind.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This closely cropped eye belongs to the artist Jean Dubuffet. Brandt made ten photographs of notable visual artists; a few seem to have been taken at the same session as a published portrait, although none appear to be enlargements from other known works. They are striking departures from Brandt’s typical practice, mysterious despite their clarity of description, and they underscore the photographer’s experimental impulse, even late in his career. There is no record of their ever being published in a magazine.

MoMA gallery label from Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, March 6 – August 12, 2013.

 

Landscapes described

Following his engagement with portraiture Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere that connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the work. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not merely aim to represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim: “Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. … I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Brandt used images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, accompanying them with extracts from works by British authors.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) Halifax; 'Hail, Hell and Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Halifax; ‘Hail, Hell and Halifax’
1937
23.50 x 20.32cm
Bill Brandt Archive
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the social portrait that Brandt created of England in the 1930s the northern industrial cities made an inevitable appearance. Coal mining and steel production, both affected by a major crisis during this period, gave cities like Halifax and Newcastle a dark, sombre appearance which Brandt masterfully conveyed in his images. The photograph’s title refers to a verse from a popular 17th century poem by John Taylor: “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!”, referring to the harshness of justice in those two cities.

 

The reputation of the great British documentary photographer Bill Brandt rests in large part on his capacity to manage the tension between black and white in a photograph. For Brandt, strong tonal contrast came to represent the social and cultural experience of Britain between the wars – a place of vast contrasts between rich and poor, worker and elite, urban and rural. But strong tonal contrast, and blackness in particular, carried other, more metaphysical associations. For Brandt, blackness represented the forces and mysteries at work in the world, a place of power and tragedy. Blackness in a photograph also introduced ‘a new beauty’ to the subject, one that intensified the visual and emotional experience of it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Gull's nest, midsummer evening, Skye' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Gull’s nest, midsummer evening, Skye
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Brandt saw this gull’s nest on a sunny afternoon during his trip to photograph northern Scotland. The light was too flat so he decided to return later. This was close to the time of year of the midnight sun. As Brandt wrote: “When I approached the nest on an isolated outpost of rocks, an enormously large gull which had been sitting on the eggs flew off and circled low around my head, barking like a dog. It was windstill, the mountains of the Scottish mainland were reflected in the sea – the light was now just right for the picture.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
22.86 x 19.37cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Nudes

In 1944 Brandt returned to the theme of the nude. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”.

In the 1950s he visited the French Channel Coast beaches in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse.

The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

Brandt’s nudes of the late 1970s bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

“Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Campden Hill, London' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Campden Hill, London
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The Kodak camera that Brandt found in a second-hand shop near Covent Garden was designed to produce a clear image of an interior space without any major technical complications. It offered an unusual vision of the motif, creating a space that evokes a dreamlike mood. Most of Brandt’s photographs of nudes in interiors were taken with this old wooden camera which imbues the scene with a sensation of both beauty and disquiet. The repetition of specific visual elements such as windows, which are always in the background of the scene, half-open doors and different pieces of furniture, including the two chairs in this image, suggests issues such as absence, the desire to escape or a complex representation of desire stripped of the object (equivalent to reducing it to its most primary sense).

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1977

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1977
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

While walking on the Channel Coast beaches, Brandt’s attention was caught by the rounded forms of the rocks on the beach and their resemblance to some forms of the human body. This idea gave rise to his series of nudes photographed outdoors. For this project he abandoned his old Kodak plate camera in favour of a Hasselblad with a wide angle lens and his much used Rolleiflex. The formal interplay that he began to develop in this photograph is closely related to the constructivist nature of what the theoreticians of the Gestalt school (the German psychology movement which began to analyse the bases of human perception in the early 20th century) called Urformen or primordial forms. The combination of both elements, rock and flesh, hard and soft, produces a series of relationships that can be associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.”

For the artist, hands-on work in the photographic lab was essential for ensuring control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career Brandt had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools.

These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be associated with the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “sinister”. Many of them clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface, for example At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse (1946), displayed in this section of the exhibition.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

In the background of this image, taken in one of London’s East End pubs, is another one: a poster issued by the military Red Cross and referring to that organisation’s work on the battlefields during World War I. It is not known why, in the second version of the image, Brandt partly obscured the poster with black wash, the medium he most commonly used to retouch his photographs.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937, printed later
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In 1951 Brandt started to develop his photographs using a high contrast paper in order to obtain very dark and light zones in the same image. This led him to develop some of his best known images again, including A snicket in Halifax. In contrast to the earlier prints of that photograph, in which the details of the façade of the building on the left are perfectly visible, he now reinterpreted the image with the façade totally blackened and thus strongly contrasting with the glint on the ramp’s cobblestones while adding a plume of black smoke in the sky.

As early as 1997 Nigel Warburton, an art historian who has undertaken some of the best work on Brandt, questioned the concept of authenticity in this photograph in one of his texts, reflecting on the changes that Brandt had introduced in the prints of his images. Warburton asked which is the most “authentic”, emphasising the fact that the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time and rejecting the idea that the simple distinction between what are known as “vintage” prints and later reprints resolves this issue.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In contrast to photographic purists such as Edward Weston, Brandt had no objection to retouching his images, cropping them or reversing the negative in accordance with his preferences or to meet the requirements of its layout on the printed page. Here we see two versions of the same image with the negative flipped in the enlarger. This is not a unique case and there are other examples in the exhibition: Policeman in a dockland alley, Bermondsey was published in two versions, while Behind the restaurant is a photograph that was always printed in reverse, as evident from the lettering on the boxes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey
1934
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This photograph was included in Brandt’s book Literary Britain (1951) and he recalled how he visited the place various times in order to take it, considering it one of the settings that best conveyed the world of Emily Brontë’s works. The farm, now a ruin, is supposedly the place that inspired her novel Wuthering Heights.

For the painter David Hockney, a great admirer of Brandt, this was one of his favourite photographs but he was extremely disappointed to discover that it is in fact a composite image and that the storm filled clouds, which descend almost to the ground, were taken from another negative and added in the photography lab. The other photograph, taken from higher up on the hill, provides the reverse shot on a foggy winter day.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill
March 1939
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Bill Brandt employed a wide range of retouching techniques on his prints, which was common practice in analogue photography, in which tiny scratches on the negative or specks of dust that cannot be completely removed leave marks on the photographic paper. In addition, Brandt often attempted to conceal imperfections in the individuals or objects photographed. The most widely used materials for this were watercolour, Conté crayon and even lead pencil. Brandt, however, also frequently used a scraper and Indian ink.

In this photograph the outline of the barmaid’s face, her eye and eyebrows have been reinforced with a metal point to define the lines, while the use of watercolour and Conté crayon allows various imperfections in the area of the left arm to be concealed.

 

Bill Brandt

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris in 1934 Brandt decided to settle in London. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography and where he made many of his literary discoveries: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photographs always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection.

As the exhibition’s curator Ramón Esparza has noted, they can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were one of the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Without ever actively participating in any of the historic avant-garde movements, he undoubtedly assimilated the ideas that circulated in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. Brandt’s images of this period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

 

The exhibition

Fundación MAPFRE is delighted to be presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (Hamburg 1904 – London, 1983), considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition, together with Paul Strand. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, inaugurates the KBr Fundación MAPFRE, our new Photography Centre in Barcelona.

The exhibition presents 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of nearly five decades of professional activity, encompassed almost all the principal photographic genres: reportage, portraiture, the nude and landscape, as noted by his biographer Paul Delany in Bill Brandt. A Life, 2004.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters.

 

The early photographs

After initiating his activities as a photographer in Vienna, where he produced the famous and widely praised portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a short period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. In the French capital Brandt encountered Surrealism, which would influence his work from that point onwards. Some of his images, such as Balloon flying over the northern suburbs of Paris (1929), can be related to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, who considered a hot air balloon in a dream to be a symbol of the masculine. Brandt’s photographs of this period are also closely related to the earlier work of his admired Eugène Atget; like him, Brandt photographed street scenes and Parisian nightlife (images that precede his subsequent, better known work) in which the above-mentioned notion of the disturbing makes its appearance.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kew Gardens' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Evening in Kew Gardens
1932
25.24 x 20.48cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros (another of Man Ray’s students who had previously studied with André Kertész) travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was at this point that Brandt shed his German origins, even to the point of inventing British nationality for himself and creating a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

“Bill Brandt was a man who loved secrets, and needed them. The face he presented to the world was that of an English-born gentleman, someone who could easily blend in with the racegoers at Ascot whom he liked to photograph. [A] façade which he would defend with outright lies if he had to […]. Today, many people are eager to discover their roots and make an identity from them. Brandt did the exact opposite: he buried his true origins and presented himself as a completely different person from the one he had been, in reality, for the first twenty-five years of his life.”

Paul Delany starts his biography of Bill Brandt with these lines. According to that author, Brandt not only wanted to live in England but to become English, which was understandable in the context of the growing British antipathy to Nazi Germany and to the events that followed Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of World War II. In the London art world it was habitual practice for emigrants arriving from Germany to change their name. Among those who had done so were Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian who had been the editor-in-chief of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, and two of his photographers, Hans Baumann and Kurt Hübschmann, who anglicised their names to Felix Man and Kurt Hutton, just as Brandt changed his first name to Bill.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East End girl dancing the 'Lambeth Walk'' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East End girl dancing the ‘Lambeth Walk’
March 1939
22.86 x 19.68cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In February 1936, two years after his arrival in London, Brandt published his first book, The English at Home. Despite their natural, spontaneous appearance, the scenes reproduced in the book were carefully prepared in advance. For this first book Brandt opted for a wide, album format and made use of one of the design formats most commonly employed in Central European graphic publications: the combination of opposites in order to create a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. Brandt aimed to juxtapose and counterbalance two different social classes on each double-page spread, developing two parallel narrative discourses but without mixing them together. We thus see family scenes of the upper classes out strolling or dining, followed by the same activities undertaken by working-class and mining families. Two years after the publication of The English at Home Brandt published A Night in London, which represents a type of replica of a work by Brassaï, one of the photographers he most admired, whose book Paris de nuit had appeared in France six years earlier. A Night in London can be seen as Brandt’s contribution to the photographic and cinematographic genre that some art historians have termed “the symphony of the metropolis.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Elephant & Castle Underground' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Elephant & Castle Underground
1940
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Elephant and Castle underground station during WWII. 1942. Deep underground at Elephant and Castle Underground station, Bill Brandt photographed many hundreds sleeping as they sought shelter from the Blitz overhead.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information, producing two of his most celebrated series. The first comprises photographs of hundreds of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters, while the second portrays the city on the surface; a ghostly London lit only by moonlight as a safety precaution due to the air raids. The United Kingdom had become a single country united against the enemy. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Portraits

While Brandt produced photographs on an independent basis that he would subsequently group together for his different books, much of his output appeared in publications and magazines such as Picture Post, as well as in Lilliput and in the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, for which he started to work in 1943. It was at this point that he turned to portraiture as a professional activity. His first reference to his portraits, of which more than 400 are known, was published in Lilliput in 1948. In Brandt’s words: “André Breton once said that a portrait should not only be an image but an oracle one questions, and that the photographer’s aim should be a profound likeness, which physically and morally predicts the subject’s entire future. […] The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of a face.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon' c. 1951

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon
c. 1951
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

Landscape described

Following his focus on portraiture, Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere – a term that for Brandt seems to involve an entire series of aesthetic references associated with both the pictorial and the literary traditions – which connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the image. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not aim to merely represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim of capturing the atmosphere.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Cuckmere River' (Río Cuckmere) 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Cuckmere River (Río Cuckmere)
1963
20 x 24.13cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Using images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, Brandt accompanied his photographs with extracts from works by British authors. It is here that an explanation of his somewhat imprecise concept of “atmosphere” can be found: the moment when the different elements that make up the landscape (nature, light, viewpoint, weather conditions) converge in an aesthetic canon rooted in a cultural tradition.

 

Nudes

When Brandt focused again on the theme of the nude in 1944 he seemed to feel the need to return to a more poetic type of image. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”. For this transition he made use of an old plate camera with a lens that produced an effect of broad spatiality and depth, transforming the everyday space of a room into a dreamlike setting.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Baie des Anges, France' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Baie des Anges, France (Desnudo, Baie de Anges, Francia)
1959
25.24 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the 1950s Brandt visited the beaches of Normandy in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse. The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

In the late 1970s Brandt again returned to the theme of the nude but these images bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.” Brandt was far more concerned than many other photographs with the actual developing of his analogue photographs. He considered working in the photographic lab to be essential and he could spend hours there in order to ensure complete control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career he had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools, as can be seen in the works displayed in the case in this room, which include various prints of the same image retouched in different ways. These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be seen in the context of the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “the uncanny”. A large number of these images clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface. Another example is Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire of 1945, an image taken for Brandt’s book Literary Britain. It includes clear signs that the stormy sky which gives the landscape a more threatening appearance was added later in the lab.

 

The catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes reproductions of all the works on display, in addition to a principal essay by the project’s curator, Ramón Esparza, doctor of Communication Sciences and professor of Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad del País Vasco, and another by Maud de la Forterie, doctor in Art History at the Sorbonne, whose doctoral thesis was devoted to the work of Bill Brandt. The catalogue also features an essay by Nigel Warburton on the artist, originally published in 1993 and revised for the present edition, and Bill Brandt’s text “A Statement” which was published in the magazine Album in March 1970.

 

 

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04
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘Victorian London in Photographs 1839 to 1901’ at the London Metropolitan Archives

Exhibition dates: 5th May – 29th October 2015

 

 

Henry Flather. 'Building the Metropolitan Railway' 1862

 

Henry Flather (British)
Building the Metropolitan Railway
1862
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

This photograph by Henry Flather shows workers at Baker Street as they construct London’s first Tube line.

 

 

This is a fascinating exhibition about the history of London portrayed through Victorian era photographs.

The best photographs in the posting are by John Thomson. The composition of these images is exemplary with their eloquent use of light and low depth of field. The seemingly nonchalant but obviously staged positioning of the figures is coupled with superb rendition of light in photographs such as Old Furniture, London Nomades and Recruiting Sergeants At Westminster (all 1877, below).

The details are intriguing, such as shooting contre-jour or into the light in Recruiting Sergeants At Westminster with one of the soldiers and the two street lads in the distance staring directly at the camera. This seems to be a technique of Thomson’s, for there is always one person in his intimate group photographs staring straight at the camera, which in this era is unusual in itself. The women on the steps of the Romany caravan stares straight at the camera, one of the two children framed in the doorway behind slightly blurred, telling us the length of the exposure.

Then we have the actual characters themselves. With his tall hat and what seems to be scars around his mouth, the man centre stage in The Cheap Fish Of St. Giles’s (1877, below) reminds me of that nasty character Bill Sikes out of Charles Dicken’s immortal Oliver Twist (1837-39). And the poverty stricken from the bottom of the barrel… the destitute women and baby in The “Crawlers” – Portrait of a destitute woman with an infant (1877, below). “The abject misery into which they are plunged is not always self sought and merited; but is, as often, the result of unfortunate circumstances and accident.” It must have been so tough in that era to survive every day in London. See Matthew Beaumont. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, Chaucer to Dickens. London and New York: Verso, 2015.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the London Metropolitan Archives for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Philip Henry Delamotte. 'Setting up the Colossi of Rameses the Great' 1854

 

Philip Henry Delamotte (British, 1821-1889)
Setting up the Colossi of Rameses the Great, The Crystal Palace
1854
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

Philip Henry Delamotte was commissioned to record the disassembly of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1852, and its reconstruction and expansion at Sydenham, a project finished in 1854. This image, entitled Setting up the Colossi of Rameses the Great, is part of an incredible set of photographs which record a large scale project in fascinating detail.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Opening ceremony of the Blackwall Tunnel' 1897

 

Anonymous photographer
Opening ceremony of the Blackwall Tunnel
1897
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This image shows the opening ceremony of the Blackwall Tunnel. The tunnel was finally opened by the then Prince of Wales (Edward VII) in 1897, having been originally proposed in the 1880’s. It was constructed using a ‘tunnel shield’ to create the tunnel and remove debris. A major engineering project of the period, the tunnel was created to improve commerce and trade in the East End by providing a Thames crossing for a mixture of foot, cycle, horse-drawn and vehicular traffic.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'St Paul's Cathedral' c. 1855

 

Anonymous photographer
St Paul’s Cathedral
c. 1855
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This photograph was taken from Southwark Bridge by an anonymous photographer. The foreground shows London’s lost wharf buildings, including Iron Wharf and Bull Wharf.

 

George Washington Wilson and Charles Wilson (photographers) Marion & Co (publishers) 'Piccadilly, London' 1890

 

George Washington Wilson (Scottish, 1823-1893) and Charles Wilson (photographers)
Marion & Co
(publishers)
Piccadilly, London
1890
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

The name derives from ‘picadil’, a fashionable stiff collar of the early seventeenth century. The Aberdeen photographers George Washington Wilson and his son Charles specialised in high quality topographical views. This image is believed to be the work of the Wilsons, many of which were published by the firm of Marion & Co. The distinctive viewpoint is several feet above the carriageway. The photographers and their large format camera were driven round London in a covered wagon hired from Pickfords removals firm. This method allowed them to take candid photographs of streets and people.

 

 

Life in Victorian London Exposed

The arrival of photography in London in 1839 would change the way people saw their city, and each other, forever. Quite suddenly it was possible to see life captured ‘in the flesh’, rather than as an artist’s sketch or painting. The new medium was embraced as a means of recording the progress of grand engineering projects and revealing the shocking poverty that haunted the capital’s poorer districts.

The collections at London Metropolitan Archives contain an extraordinary range of photographs from Queen Victoria’s reign, recording the city and its people in stunning detail. Whether in carefully posed studio portraits or images of people gathered in the street, it seems that almost everyone wanted to be recorded on camera. This exhibition delves into these collections to present some of most striking images of the era; from the first known photograph of London to the opening of Blackwall Tunnel at the end of the century, taking in the Crystal Palace, the first Tube line and the harsh realities of life on the city’s streets. This free exhibition runs from Tuesday 5th May to Thursday 8th October at London Metropolitan Archives.

Images on display will include photographs from these astonishing Victorian collections:

 

Street Life in London

The industrial and social developments of the nineteenth century and their effect on the city and by extension the poor in Britain were subjects of interest and detailed study in the Victorian period. Street Life in London by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson was an early use of photography as a medium to expose the lives of London’s poor and dispossessed in the late 1870’s. (More images from the book can be found on the LSE Digital Library website)

 

Preserving the Disappearing City

In March 1875 a letter appeared in The Times calling attention to the immanent demolitions affecting The Oxford Arms, a lovely but ramshackle seventeenth century coaching inn near to the Old Bailey. A response came a few days later, in the same column, announcing that a photographic record would be made. The group of historians and photographers responsible for this initiative called themselves Society for Photographing Relics of Old London. Between 1875 and 1886 they published 120 beautifully composed photographs of buildings. These images of a City swept away by the new Victorian world provide a surprising and beautiful record of a long forgotten London.

 

The Crystal Palace

Constructed for The Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, the Crystal Palace remains an enduring and enticing ‘lost’ icon of Victorian London. The building was re-erected in Sydenham in 1852 and photographer Philip Henry Delamotte was engaged to record the full process, creating 160 images which begin with the first girder going into the ground and end with Victoria and Albert’s appearance at the opening ceremony. The many fabulous highlights include Roman and Egyptian courts, a cast of the Sphinx, the dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park and an incredible recreation of the Colossi of Aboo Simbel.

 

H. L. Lawrence. 'Portrait of a woman' Nd

 

H. L. Lawrence
Portrait of a woman
Nd
Cabinet card
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

Replacing the smaller carte de visite in the 1870’s, cabinet cards were a popular way to share and collect images of friends and acquaintances.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Portrait of a boy, The Ragged School' c. 1860

 

Anonymous photographer
Portrait of a boy, The Ragged School
c. 1860
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This photograph is taken from a case book of the Ragged School Union which provides biographical information and images of a group of boys who were prepared for emigration to Canada.

 

John Thomson (publisher). 'Portrait of a destitute woman with an infant' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
The “Crawlers” – Portrait of a destitute woman with an infant
1877
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This image was published in 1877 by John Thomson in Street Life in London, alongside stories written by Adolphe Smith.

“Some of these crawlers are not, however, so devoid of energy as we might at first be led to infer. A few days’ good lodging and good food might operate a marvellous transformation. The abject misery into which they are plunged is not always self sought and merited; but is, as often, the result of unfortunate circumstances and accident. The crawler, for instance, whose portrait is now before the reader, is the widow of a tailor who died some ten years ago. She had been living with her son-in-law, a marble stone-polisher by trade, who is now in difficulties through ill-health. It appears, however, that, at best, “he never cared much for his work,” and innumerable quarrels ensued between him, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his brother-in-law, a youth of fifteen. At last, after many years of wrangling, the mother, finding that her presence aggravated her daughter’s troubles, left this uncomfortable home, and with her young son descended penniless into the street. From that day she fell lower and lower, and now takes her seat among the crawlers of the district.”

 

The industrial and social developments of the 19th century and their effect on the city and by extension the poor in Britain were subjects of interest and detailed study in the Victorian period. Street Life in London by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson is a good example of this and in particular, its use of early photographic processes.

Adolphe Smith was an experienced journalist connected to social reform movements. While John Thomson was a photographer who had spent considerable time in the Far East, especially China, and central to his work was the photography of streets and individuals at work. Produced in 12 monthly issues, starting in February 1877, each issue had three stories accompanied by a photograph. Most of the text was written by Smith, although two are attributed to Thomson – London Nomades and Street Floods in Lambeth. The images were staged as tableau rather than being spontaneous street scenes and the relatively new process – Woodburytype – was used to reproduce the images consistently in large numbers for the publication.

Text from the London Metropolitan Archives Facebook page

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Portrait of actor William Terriss' late 19th century

 

Anonymous photographer
Theatre magazine (producer)
Portrait of actor William Terriss
late 19th century
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This is a typical example of the portraits of performers produced by the Theatre magazine between 1878 and 1897. Known for heroic roles such as Robin Hood, Terriss was murdered outside the Adelphi Theatre in 1897.

 

Henry Dixon. 'The Oxford Arms Coaching Inn' 1875

 

Henry Dixon (British, 1820-1893)
The Oxford Arms Coaching Inn
1875
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

Shot by Henry Dixon as part of the ‘Society for Photographing Relics of Old London’ project to record heritage on the verge of destruction as Victorian London re-invented itself. Amongst the subjects recorded were the galleried coaching inns which had existed in some form since the time of Chaucer and which were swept away by the coming of the railways. Most ended their days as slum dwellings before being demolished. Only one, the George, now survives.

 

John Thomson. 'Old Furniture' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Old Furniture
1877
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This image was published in 1877 by John Thomson in Street Life in London, alongside stories written by Adolphe Smith.

“At the corner of Church Lane, Holborn, there was a second-hand furniture dealer, whose business was a cross between that of a shop and a street stall. The dealer was never satisfied unless the weather allowed him to disgorge nearly the whole of his stock into the middle of the street, a method which alone secured the approval and custom of his neighbours. As a matter of fact, the inhabitants of Church Lane were nearly all what I may term “street folks” – living, buying, selling, transacting all their business in the open street. It was a celebrated resort for tramps and costers of every description, men and women who hawk during the day and evening the flowers, fruits and vegetables they buy in the morning at Covent Garden. When, however, the question of improving this district was first broached, Church Lane stood condemned as an unwholesome over-crowded, thoroughfare, and the houses on either side are now almost entirely destroyed, and the inhabitants have been compelled to migrate to other more distant and less convenient parts of the metropolis.”

 

John Thomson. 'Recruiting Sergeants At Westminster' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Recruiting Sergeants At Westminster
1877
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This image was published in 1877 by John Thomson in Street Life in London, alongside stories written by Adolphe Smith.

“Recruiting in London is almost exclusively circumscribed to the district stretching between the St. George’s Barracks, Trafalgar Square, and Westminster Abbey. Throughout London it is known that all information concerning service in the army can be obtained in this quarter, and intending recruits troop down to this neighbourhood in shoals, converging, as the culminating point of their peregrinations, towards the celebrated public-house at the corner of King Street and Bridge Street. It is under the inappropriate and pacific sign-board of the ‘Mitre and Dove’ that veteran men of war meet and cajole young aspirants to military honours. Here may be seen every day representatives of our picked regiments. […]

“The most prominent figure in the accompanying photograph, standing with his back to the Abbey, and nearest to the kerb stone, is that of Sergeant Ison, who is always looked upon with more than ordinary curiosity as the representative of the 6th Dragoon Guards, or Carbineers – a regiment which of late has been chiefly distinguished for having included in its ranks no less a person than Sir Roger Tichborne himself! To the Carbineer’s right we have the representatives of two heavy regiments, Sergeant Titswell, of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and Sergeant Badcock, of the 2nd Dragoons, or Scots Greys; the latter is leaning against the corner of the public-house. Close to him may be recognized the features of Sergeant Bilton, of the Royal Engineers, while Sergeant Minett, of the 14th Hussars, turns his head towards Sergeant McGilney, of the 6th Dragoons, or Enniskillen, whose stalwart frame occupies the foreground. This group would not, however, have been complete without giving a glimpse at Mr. Cox, the policeman, to whose discretion and pacific interference may be attributed the order which is generally preserved even under the most trying circumstances at the ‘Mitre and Dove.'”

 

John Thomson. 'The Cheap Fish Of St. Giles's' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
The Cheap Fish Of St. Giles’s
1877
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

A street market in the notorious St Giles in the Fields area, noted as one of the worst slums in Britain during the Victorian period, 1877. This image was published in 1877 by John Thomson in ‘Street Life in London’, alongside stories written by Adolphe Smith.

This image was published in 1877 by John Thomson in Street Life in London, alongside stories written by Adolphe Smith.

“Awaiting the moment when the costermonger is able to procure a barrow of his own he must pay eighteen pence per week for the cost of hiring. Then he must beware of the police, who have a knack of confiscating these barrows, on the pretext that they obstruct the thoroughfare and of placing them in what is termed the Green Yard, where no less than a shilling per day is charged for the room the barrow is supposed to occupy. At the same time, its owner will probably be fined from half a crown to ten shillings so that altogether it is much safer to secure a good place in a crowded street market. In this respect, Joseph Carney, the costermonger, whose portrait is before the reader, has been most fortunate. He stands regularly in the street market that stretches between Seven Dials and what is called Five Dials, making his pitch by a well-known newsagent’s, whose shop serves as a landmark. Like the majority of his class, he does not always sell fish, but only when the wind is propitious and it can be bought cheaply. On the day when the photograph was taken, he had succeeded in buying a barrel of five hundred fresh herrings for twenty five shillings. Out of these he selected about two hundred of the largest fish, which he sold at a penny each, while he disposed of the smaller herrings at a halfpenny.

“Trade was brisk at that moment, though the fish is sometimes much cheaper. Indeed, I have seen fresh herrings sold at five a penny; and this is all the more fortunate, as notwithstanding the small cost, they are, with the exception of good salmon, about the most nutritious fish in the market.”

 

John Thomson. 'London Nomades' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
London Nomades
1877
© City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

This image was published in 1877 by John Thomson in Street Life in London, alongside stories written by Adolphe Smith.

“The class of Nomades with which I propose to deal makes some show of industry. These people attend fairs, markets, and hawk cheap ornaments or useful wares from door to door. At certain seasons this class ‘works’ regular wards, or sections of the city and suburbs. At other seasons its members migrate to the provinces, to engage in harvesting, hop-picking, or to attend fairs, where they figure as owners of ‘Puff and Darts’, ‘Spin ’em rounds’, and other games. […]

“The accompanying photograph, taken on a piece of vacant land at Battersea, represents a friendly group gathered around the caravan of William Hampton, a man who enjoys the reputation among his fellows, of being ‘a fair-spoken, honest gentleman’. Nor has subsequent intercourse with the gentleman in question led me to suppose that his character has been unduly overrated. […]

“He honestly owned his restless love of a roving life, and his inability to settle in any fixed spot. He also held that the progress of education was one of the most dangerous symptoms of the times, and spoke in a tone of deep regret of the manner in which decent children were forced now-a-days to go to school. ‘Edication, sir! Why what do I want with edication? Edication to them what has it makes them wusser. They knows tricks what don’t b’long to the nat’ral gent. That’s my ‘pinion. They knows a sight too much, they do! No offence, sir. There’s good gents and kind ‘arted scholards, no doubt. But when a man is bad, and God knows most of us aint wery good, it makes him wuss. Any chaps of my acquaintance what knows how to write and count proper aint much to be trusted at a bargain.’ […]

“The dealer in hawkers’ wares in Kent Street, tells me that when in the country the wanderers ‘live wonderful hard, almost starve, unless food comes cheap. Their women carrying about baskets of cheap and tempting things, get along of the servants at gentry’s houses, and come in for wonderful scraps. But most of them, when they get flush of money, have a regular go, and drink for weeks; then after that they are all for saving… They have suffered severely lately from colds, small pox, and other diseases, but in spite of bad times, they still continue buying cheap, selling dear, and gambling fiercely.’ […]

“Declining an invitation to ‘come and see them at dominoes in a public over the way’, I hastened to note down as fast as possible the information received word for word in the original language in which it was delivered, believing that this unvarnished story would at least be more characteristic and true to life.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Trafalgar Square' c. 1867

 

Unknown photographer
Trafalgar Square
c. 1867
© City of London : London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

The first proposal for a square on the site of the former King’s Mews was drawn up by John Nash. It was part of King George IV’s extravagant vision for the west end curtailed by his death in 1830. Trafalgar Square was completed between 1840 and 1845 by Sir Charles Barry. There had been proposals to erect a monument to Horatio Nelson since his death at Trafalgar in 1805 but it was 1838 before a committee was formed to raise funds and consider proposals. William Railton’s design was chosen from dozens of entrants and his impressive Devonshire granite column with its statue of Nelson by E. H. Baily was erected in 1839-43. It was already attracting photographers before the scaffolding was dismantled. The four lions at the base of the column were originally to be in stone rather than bronze but it was 1857 before a commission was given to the artist Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873). This photograph shows two of the lions when newly positioned some ten years later.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Construction of Tower Bridge' 1892

 

Unknown photographer
Construction of Tower Bridge
1892
© City of London : London Metropolitan Archives

 

 

London Bridge was the only crossing over the river Thames in London until the eighteenth century, after which a number of bridges and tunnels were constructed. Perhaps the most famous of these is Tower Bridge. There were a number of designs for different types of bridges but the City of London Corporation decided on a bascule (French for see-saw) design. This remarkable anonymous photograph was taken two years before the bridge opened.

 

 

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07
Mar
14

Exhibition: ‘Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr’ at Media Space at Science Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 21st September 2013 – 16th March 2014

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Beachy Head Tripper Boat, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Beachy Head Tripper Boat, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

 

 

“Be more aware of composition

Don’t take boring pictures

Get in closer

Watch camera shake

Don’t shoot too much”

.
Tony Ray-Jones from his diaries

 

 

Growing up in the 1960s we used to get taken to Butlins holiday camps (Billy Butlin founded the company, a chain of large holiday camps in the United Kingdom, to provide affordable holidays for ordinary British families). It was a great treat to be away from the farm, to be by the sea, even if the beach was made of stones. Looking back on it now you realise how seedy it was, how working class… but as a kid it was oh, so much fun!

Tony Ray-Jones photographed these environments (mainly the British at play by the sea) and their opposites – afternoon tea taken at Glyndebourne opera festival for example (Glyndebourne, 1967, below) – drawing on the tradition of great British social documentary photography by artists such as Bill Brandt. TRJ even pays homage to Brandt in one of his photographs, Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c. 1967 (below) which echoes Brandt’s famous photograph Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner, 1933 by changing “point of view” from up close, personal, oppressive and interior to distance, isolation, leisure/work and exterior.

Through his photographs Ray-Jones adds his own style and humour, using “a new conception of photography as a means of expression, over and above its accepted role as a recorder.” He does it all as an intimate expression of his own personality, his maverick, outsider, non-conformist self. I feel – and that is the key word with his art – that he had a real empathy with his subject matter. There is a twinkle in his eye that becomes embedded in his photographs. There is an honesty, integrity and respect for the people he is photographing, coupled with a wicked sense of humour and the most amazing photographic eye. What an eye he had!

To be able to sum up a scene in a split second, to previsualise (think), intuitively compose, frame and shoot in that twinkle of an eye, and to balance the images as he does is truly the most incredible gift, the quintessential British “decisive moment”. Look at the structural analysis of Location unknown, possibly Worthing (1967-68, below) that I have presented in a slide show. This will give you a good idea of the visual complexity of Ray-Jones’ images… and yet he makes the sum of all components seem grounded (in this case by the man’s feet) and effortless. Devon Caranicas has observed that TRJ possessed a quick wit and adeptness for reducing a complex narrative into a single frame, the photographed subjects transformed into social actors of supreme stereotypes. The first part is insightful, but social actors of supreme stereotypes? I think not, because these people are not acting, this is their life, their humanity, their time out from the hum-drum of everyday working class life. They do not pose for TRJ, it’s just how they are. Look at the musicality of the first five images in the posting – how the line rises and falls, moves towards you and away from you. Only a great artist can do that, instinctively.

I cannot express to you enough the utmost admiration I have for this man’s art. In my opinion he is one of greatest British photographers that has ever lived (Julia Margaret Cameron, William Henry Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, Francis Bedford, Frederick H. Evans, Cecil Beaton, Peter Henry Emerson and Herbert Ponting would be but a few others that spring to mind). He photographed British customs and values at a time of change and pictured a real affection for the lives of ordinary working class people. Being one of the them, he will always hold a special place in my heart.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Media Space at Science Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Although the entirety of the images from Only in England were shot throughout the politically and socially turbulent late 60’s and early 70’s both artists shy away from depicting the culture clashes that so often visually defined this period. Instead, they each opted to turn their lens onto the quintessential country side, and in doing so, pay homage to a traditional type of English life that was becoming a sort of sub-culture in itself – a way of living that was not yet touched by the encroaching globalisation, or “americanisation,” of the UK.”

September 26th, 2013 by ART WEDNESDAY [Online] Cited 05/03/2014 no longer available online

 

“Ray-Jones printed his black and white pictures small, in a dark register of tonally very dense prints. The National Media Museum has lots of these, and perhaps to devote the cavernous new space only to such small pictures would have been a mistake. Even backed up with a mass of supporting material, including the fascinating pages from Ray-Jones’ diaries, the prints would struggle to fill the space. So only the first section is devoted to about 50 beautiful little Ray-Jones vintage prints. Two whole sections have been added to the exhibition to flesh it out…

[Parr] has unfortunately chosen to print them [Ray-Jones prints] in a way quite alien to anything Ray-Jones ever made: they are printed in Parr’s own way, as larger, paler, more diffuse things in mid-tones that Ray-Jones would never have countenanced. They are printed, inevitably, by digital process…

Sadly, these Ray-Jones by Parr prints add up to an appropriation of the former by the latter: they are Martin Parr pictures taken from Tony-Ray Jones negatives, and it would have been better not to have shown them so. They are fine images, but they should have been seen in some other way: on digital screens, perhaps, or as modern post-cards. Anything to make quite explicit the clear break with Ray-Jones’ own prints. That the images they contain are very fine is not in doubt. But I take leave to question whether they “present a new way of thinking through creative use of the collections”. They are well labelled and for specialists there will be no difficulty in knowing that they are not by Ray-Jones. But for the public I am not so sure. Suddenly two-thirds of the show are in this larger, modern, digitally printed form, either by Parr himself or by Ray-Jones-through-Parr. It looks as if that is the dominant group…”

Extract from Francis Hodgson. “Two Exhibitions of Tony Ray-Jones – Two Ways of Giving Context to Photographs,” on the Photomonitor website, September 2013 Cited 05/03/2014 no longer available online

 

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Beauty contestants, Southport, Merseyside, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Beauty contestants, Southport, Merseyside, 1967 
1967
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Brighton Beach, West Sussex, 1966' 1966

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Brighton Beach, West Sussex, 1966
1966
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Eastbourne Carnival, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Eastbourne Carnival, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Blackpool, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Blackpool, 1968
1968
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Location unknown, possibly Worthing' 1967-68

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Location unknown, possibly Worthing
1967-68
© National Media Museum

 

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Tony Ray-Jones Location unknown, possibly Worthing (1967-68) picture analysis by Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Fascinated by the eccentricities of English social customs, Tony Ray-Jones spent the latter half of the 1960s travelling across England, photographing what he saw as a disappearing way of life. Humorous yet melancholy, these works had a profound influence on photographer Martin Parr, who has now made a new selection including over 50 previously unseen works from the National Media Museum’s Ray-Jones archive. Shown alongside The Non-Conformists, Parr’s rarely seen work from the 1970s, this selection forms a major new exhibition which demonstrates the close relationships between the work of these two important photographers.

The first ever major London exhibition of work by British Photographer, Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) will open at Media Space on 21 September 2013. The exhibition will feature over 100 works drawn from the Tony Ray-Jones archive at the National Media Museum alongside 50 rarely seen early black and white photographs, The Non-Conformists, by Martin Parr (1952).

Between 1966 and 1969 Tony Ray-Jones created a body of photographic work documenting English customs and identity. Humorous yet melancholy, these photographs were a departure from anything else being produced at the time. They quickly attracted the attention of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London where they were exhibited in 1969. Tragically, in 1972, Ray-Jones died from Leukaemia aged just 30. However, his short but prolific career had a lasting influence on the development of British photography from the 1970s through to the present.

In 1970, Martin Parr, a photography student at Manchester Polytechnic, had been introduced to Ray-Jones. Inspired by him, Parr produced The Non-Conformists, shot in black and white in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding Calder Valley. This project started within two years of Ray-Jones death and demonstrates his legacy and influence.

The exhibition will draw from the Tony Ray-Jones archive, held by the National Media Museum.  Around 50 vintage prints will be on display alongside an equal number of photographs which have never previously been printed. Martin Parr has been invited to select these new works from the 2700 contact sheets and negatives in the archive. Shown alongside these are Parr’s early black and white work, unfamiliar to many, which has only ever previously been exhibited in Hebden Bridge itself and at Camerawork Gallery, London in 1981.

Tony Ray-Jones was born in Somerset in 1941. He studied graphic design at the London School of Printing before leaving the UK in 1961 to study on a scholarship at Yale University in Connecticut, US. He followed this with a year long stay in New York during which he attended classes by the influential art director Alexey Brodovitch, and became friends with photographers Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand. In 1966 he returned to find a Britain still divided by class and tradition. A Day Off – An English Journal, a collection of photographs he took between 1967-1970 was published posthumously in 1974 and in 2004 the National Media Museum held a major exhibition, A Gentle Madness: The Photographs of Tony Ray-Jones.

Martin Parr was born in Epsom, Surry in 1952. He graduated from Manchester Polytechnic in 1974 and moved to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, where he established the ‘Albert Street Workshop’, a hub for artistic activity in the town. Fascinated by the variety of non-conformist chapels and the communities he encountered in the town he produced The Non-Conformists. In 1984 Parr began to work in colour and his breakthrough publication The Last Resort was published in 1986. A Magnum photographer, Parr is now an internationally renowned photographer, filmmaker, collector and curator, best-known for his highly saturated colour photographs critiquing modern life.

Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr will run at Media Space, Science Museum from 21 September 2013 – 16 March 2014. The exhibition will then be on display at the National Media Museum from 22 March – 29 June 2014. The exhibition is curated by Greg Hobson, curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum, and Martin Parr has been invited to select works from the Tony Ray-Jones archives.

Greg Hobson, curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum says, “The combination of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones’ work will allow the viewer to trace an important trajectory through the history of British photography, and present new ways of thinking about photographic histories through creative use of our collections.” Martin Parr says, “Tony Ray-Jones’ pictures were about England. They had that contrast, that seedy eccentricity, but they showed it in a very subtle way. They have an ambiguity, a visual anarchy. They showed me what was possible.”

The Tony Ray-Jones archive comprises of approximately 700 photographic prints, 1700 negative sheets, 2700 contact sheets, 600 boxes of Ektachrome / Kodachrome transparencies. It also includes ephemera such as notebooks, diary pages, and a maquette of England by the Sea made by Tony Ray-Jones.

Media Space is a collaboration between the Science Museum (London) and the National Media Museum (Bradford). Media Space will showcase the National Photography Collection of the National Media Museum through a series of exhibitions. Alongside this, photographers, artists and the creative industries will respond to the wider collections of the Science Museum Group to explore visual media, technology and science.

Press release from the Science Museum website

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Bacup coconut dancers, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Bacup coconut dancers, 1968
1968
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bournemouth, 1969' 1969

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Bournemouth, 1969
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
16 x 25cm (6 x 10 inches)
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Location unknown, possible Morecambe, 1967-68' 1967-68

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Location unknown, possible Morecambe, 1967-68
1967-68
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Mablethorpe, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Mablethorpe, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21cm (6 x 8 inches)
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Ramsgate, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Ramsgate, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

 

Martin Parr. 'Mankinholes Methodist Chapel, Todmorden' 1975

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Mankinholes Methodist Chapel, Todmorden
1975
© Martin Parr/ Magnum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Cruft's Dog Show, London, 1966' 1966

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Cruft’s Dog Show, London, 1966
1966
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c.1967' c.1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c. 1967
c. 1967
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c.1967' c.1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c.1967
c.1967
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Wormwood Scrubs Fair, London, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Wormwood Scrubs Fair, London, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Untitled' 1960s

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Untitled
1960s
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Trooping the Colour, London, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Trooping the Colour, London, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Untitled' 1960s

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Untitled
1960s
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Glyndebourne, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Glyndebourne, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Elderly woman eating pie seated in a pier shelter next to a stuffed bear, 1969' 1969

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Elderly woman eating pie seated in a pier shelter next to a stuffed bear, 1969
1969
© National Media Museum

 

Tony Ray-Jones. 'Blackpool, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Blackpool, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
21 x 14.5cm (8.25 x 5.70 ins)

 

Martin Parr. 'Tom Greenwood cleaning' 1976

 

Tony Ray-Jones (English, 1941-1972)
Tom Greenwood cleaning
1976
© Martin Parr/ Magnum

 

 

 

Media Space at Science Museum
Exhibition Road, South Kensington,
London SW7 2DD

Opening hours:
Open seven days a week, 10.00 – 18.00

Media Space at Science Museum website

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08
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Edith Tudor Hart – In the Shadow of Tyranny’ at the Wien Museum, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 26th September 2013 – 12th January 2014

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) From the series 'Moving and Growing' 1951

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
From the series Moving and Growing
1951
© Wien Museum

 

 

More images from this wonderful photographer who was a low-level Soviet agent while exiled in Britain after the Second World War and who destroyed most of her photos as well as many negatives out of fear of prosecution in 1951. Thanks to contemporary research we can begin to see the vision of this artist. In her photo essays, an impassioned record, she imaged social injustice and showed it to the world… creating her own inimitable style and a “comprehensive and freestanding body of work.”

“Her photos are impressive for the quality of the dialogue with those portrayed and the social context is always visible and tangible. “The women, children and workers photographed by her seem less objectified and, to some extent at least, are placed in a better position to represent themselves,” writes Duncan Forbes, curator of the exhibition.” (press release)

The quality of the dialogue with those portrayed. You can feel that in these images, that the photographer has a care and respect for the people that she is photographing, probably more so than the photographs of Bill Brandt from the same period. She seems to have more connection and concern for her subject matter. I love their grittiness, poignancy and above all their humanity. Look at the arrangement of figures in Family, Stepney, London (about 1932, below) as the viewers eye is led by the two staggered boys on the bed up to the eldest daughter, looking away off camera, while the mother steadfastly gazes directly into the camera clutching her youngest daughter tightly. The smile on the little girls face is a joy.

“No Home, No Dole” was the reality of life in London back then, with the Great Depression taking hold. I remember growing up in the 1960s and things weren’t much better in my grandmothers house, even the old farmhouse I grew up in. No hot running water, my mother bathing us kids in a tin tub on the kitchen floor with water heated up in the kettle on the stove. It was subsistence living for we were the poorest of the poor. That Edith Tudor Hart had the courage of her convictions and recorded these environments shows a human being of great moral character. That the images still survive we are grateful.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Wien Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. View the exhibition online catalogue.

 

“If curator Duncan Forbes and photographers Owen Logan and Joanna Kane have resurrected an amazing archive, Tudor-Hart’s own life is curiously out of focus. Her struggles and sorrows are mute beneath the weight of her images. Her late life feels only half-lived: she struggled under the scrutiny of the security services until her death in 1973; she destroyed much documentation, including her list of negatives. As a woman photographer with left-wing associations, work became scarce. As a communist and a suspected traitor she was blacklisted and in the 1950s she gave up photography altogether.

What’s left, or rather what has been patiently reconstructed, is an impassioned record of the terrible long shadow of ­tyranny in Europe, and of a ­divided Britain that makes you both deeply ashamed and ­occasionally proud.”

Moria Jeffrey review of the exhibition 04/07/2013 on the Art Global website [Online] Cited 06/01/2014 no longer available online

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Unemployed Workers' Demonstration, Trealaw, South Wales' 1935

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Unemployed Workers’ Demonstration, Trealaw, South Wales
1935
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

 

Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Prater Ferris Wheel, Vienna' 1931

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Prater Ferris Wheel, Vienna
1931
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

 

 

The rediscovery of a great Austrian-British photographer Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-1973), who is known in Austrian history of photography as Edith Suschitzky, belonged to the group of those politically engaged photographers who faced political developments in the inter-war years with socially critical force.

Edith Suschitzky studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau and worked as a photographer in Vienna around 1930 – while simultaneously a Soviet agent. In 1933 she married an Englishman who likewise had close connections to the Communist Party, and fled with him to Great Britain. There she created brilliant social reportage in the slums of London or in the coal mining areas of Wales, today some of the key examples of British workers’ photography. The exhibition is the first monographic presentation of Edith Tudor-Hart’s work. As well as the period in England, a selection from the early Viennese works are on show. Her unpretentious, documentary-influenced photographs on social themes come mainly from the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland

Following Barbara Pflaum, Elfriede Mejchar and Trude Fleischmann, the Wien Museum is once again putting on a solo exhibition dedicated to a great Austrian photographer: Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-1973), also known in the annals of photographic history by her maiden name Edith Suschitzky. She belonged to the group of politically engaged male and female photographers who, from the 1920s onwards, responded to political developments from a socially critical standpoint – both in Austria and in exile in England, where she became an important figure in the Worker Photography Movement. The exhibition, which was previously on show in Edinburgh, is the first ever overview of the work of this in equal measure fascinating and significant artist. It arose out of a cooperation between the National Galleries of Scotland and the Wien Museum and has been curated by Duncan Forbes, the long-standing Senior Curator of Photography at the National Galleries of Scotland and the new Director of the Fotomuseum Winterthur.

Edith Tudor-Hart was born in Vienna in 1908 as Edith Suschitzky and grew up in a social-democratic household; her father ran a workers’ bookshop in the Favoriten district of Vienna and a revolutionary publishing house. She had contact with the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) and the Communist International already from a young age and both charged her with tasks – with legal party work as well as with intelligence activities. Early on, Tudor-Hart become interested in pedagogy; she completed training in the Montessori method and moved in circles that promoted radical, anti-authoritarian school and education reforms. It was likely the period of study at the Bauhaus in Dessau (1928-1930) that first brought her to photography, even though Tudor-Hart is listed in the archives only as a participant on the famous preparatory course and not as a student in the photography department. Her first pictures were taken in about 1930 and “show a technically accomplished photographer, who explored subjects such as the deprivation of the working class and the reform-oriented culture of Austrian Social Democracy as well as the threat posed by military and fascist forces” (as the historian of photography Anton Holzer has written). At the same time she embarked on a career as a photo journalist for illustrated publications.

It was the period in which, thanks to technological advances, photography in the mass media had gained immensely in importance. From the beginning, Tudor-Hart viewed the camera as a political weapon that could be used to document social injustices; she had little time for the formal experiments of the avant-garde. Photography had ceased to be “an instrument for recording events and became instead the means to bring events about and to influence them. It became a living art form that involved the people” (Edith Tudor-Hart). Her first photo series, published in the magazines Der Kuckuck, Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung and Die Bühne, include a reportage on the deprived East End of London and a series on everyday life in the Vienna Prater. That she was a Communist and yet was working for a social-democratic publication such as Der Kuckuck was down to the fact that the KPÖ played a minimal role in the media (and political) landscape of Austria – in this respect the young photographer had to adapt to the commercial realities of her profession. However, she was also active for the Soviet news agency TASS and, in addition, she continued with her intelligence activities. She was described by a fellow agent as “modest, competent and brave”, ready “to give her all for the Soviet cause”. This eventually became Edith Tudor-Hart’s undoing: when the Austrian government moved against Nazis and Communists, she was arrested without further ado. In the same year she married the English doctor Alexander Tudor-Hart, which allowed her to escape to Great Britain in 1934. “When one views Suschitzky’s photographic work from her Vienna years, it becomes clear that already in her early period, she created a comprehensive and freestanding body of work,” writes Anton Holzer.

 

Among the miners in Wales

In exile, Edith Tudor-Hart’s photographs took on a sharper socially critical edge. She went with her husband to South Wales, where he practised as a doctor in the coal mining region. The economic crisis had hit heavy industry and mining in northern England particularly hard and in many small towns and villages, nine out of ten men were unemployed. The photos from the mining and shipbuilding region of Tyneside also tell of crippling economic hardship and social decline. With her pictures, Tudor-Hart clearly stood out from the mainstream of British photography, characterised at that time by a bourgeois, somewhat sweet and sentimental aesthetic. Her photos are impressive for the quality of the dialogue with those portrayed and the social context is always visible and tangible. “The women, children and workers photographed by her seem less objectified and, to some extent at least, are placed in a better position to represent themselves,” writes Duncan Forbes, curator of the exhibition. During the slight economic recovery of the mid-1930s, Tudor-Hart was able to build up a photo studio in London: “Edith Tudor-Hart – Modern Photography” it said on her headed paper. She specialised in portraiture and was also able to obtain some advertising work, for example for the toy manufacturer Abbatt Toys. In addition, she supplied photos to new British illustrated publications, including the magazine Lilliput and the popular paper Picture Post, as well as to government departments such as the British Ministry of Education. For her, working for the traditional papers of Fleet Street was, however, not an option. Alongside the equally consistent and nuanced workers’ photography, Tudor-Hart concentrated on work with children, especially after the Second World War, and in this she could call on a wide network of contacts. These included the Austrian paediatrician and curative educator Karl König as well as Anna Freud and Donald Winnicott, two of the leading protagonists of child psychoanalysis. She was concerned with issues of child welfare, heath and education and received commissions from agencies such as the British Medical Association, Mencap and the National Baby Welfare Council. In contrast to the static, studio-based portrait photography customary at the time, Tudor-Hart showed families and especially children as natural and lively.

After the Second World War and with the onset of the Cold War, Tudor-Hart’s personal situation worsened as she was still active as a low-level Soviet agent. In 1951, shortly after the Soviet spy Kim Philby was interrogated for the first time, she destroyed most of her photos as well as many negatives out of fear of prosecution. “Her life as a partisan for the Soviet cause ended with her a defeated and demoralised woman,” writes Duncan Forbes. She stopped publishing photos at the end of the 1950s, presumably at the request of the British secret services. Despite being questioned numerous times she was never arrested. Edith Tudor-Hart lived out her final years until her death in 1973 as an antiques dealer in Brighton.

That her photographic work was rediscovered is thanks to her brother, the photographer and cameraman Wolfgang Suschitzky. He saved a number of negatives from destruction and, in 2004, presented his sister’s photographic archive to the Scottish National Galleries. This exhibition and catalogue make Edith Tudor-Hart’s exceptional work accessible to a wider public for the first time. The exhibition was on show at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh in spring 2013 and, after its run at the Wien Museum, will also be on display in Berlin. For the first time, it offers an overview of Tudor-Hart’s work from her years in both Vienna and England; many of the photos have never been seen before. Furthermore, the first comprehensive work on this great Austrian artist is being published on the occasion of this exhibition.

Press release from the Wien Museum website

 

Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Family, Stepney, London' about 1932

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Family, Stepney, London
about 1932
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

 

Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Gee Street, Finsbury, London' about 1936

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Gee Street, Finsbury, London
about 1936
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

 

Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Unemployed Family, Vienna' 1930

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Unemployed Family, Vienna
1930
© Wien Museum

 

Edith Tudor-Hart. '"No Home, No Dole" London' about 1931

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
“No Home, No Dole” London
about 1931
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

 

Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Self-portrait, London' about 1936

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Self-portrait, London
about 1936
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

 

 

Wien Museum
1040 Vienna, Karlsplatz 8
Phone: +43 (0)1 505 87 47 0

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday and public holidays 10am – 6pm

Wien Museum website

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06
Oct
13

Exhibition: ‘Another Country: Vintage Photographs of British Life by Tony Ray-Jones’ at James Hyman, London

Exhibition dates: 11th September – 11th October 2013

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Lady's Day' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Lady’s Day
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
12 x 20cm (5 x 8 inches)

 

 

What a loss to the world when this photographer died aged just thirty. His eye was magnificent. He seems to have instinctively known how to capture the quintessential British at work, rest and play in all that societies class-ridden glory – the fag hanging out of the mouth in Lady’s Day (c. 1967) combining beautifully with the aura of the patterned dresses; the isolation of the figures and their stop-frame movement in Day at the Races (c. 1967), a wonderfully balanced composition caught in the moment; and the orchestral ensemble that is the cast of Bacup, Lancashire, 1968 (1968), each figure playing its part in the overall tension of the picture plane: the brothers at right in matching duffle coats, the boy walking forward down the incline with head thrown sideways balanced at rear by another boy with hands in pockets tossing his head into the wind. Magical.

Just to see this image, to visualise it and have the camera ready to capture its “nature”, its undeniable presence for that one split second, then to develop and find this image on a proof sheet, what joy this would have been for the artist. Equally illustrious is the feeling of Bournemouth, 1969 (1969) with the nuanced use of shadow and light, the occlusion of the figure behind the screen with the turn of the head, and the placement of the two white tea cups at right. Ray-Jones wasn’t afraid to place figures in the foreground of his compositions either as can be seen in Brighton Beach, 1967 (1967) to great effect, framing the mise en scène behind.

These photographs take me way back to my childhood in the 1960s in England, going to Butlin’s Clacton-on-Sea and Bournemouth for our family holidays. Even the name says it all: Clacton “on sea” as though they have to remind people visiting that they are actually at the sea. The photographs perfectly capture the mood of the country in this utilitarian era where holidays at a seaside resort were often dour affairs, punctuated by stony beaches, bad weather and regulated activities. The freedom of the 1970s had yet to arrive and us kids went whether we liked it or not: Mablethorpe, 1967 (1967) perfectly epitomises such an environment, with the long days of pleasure / torture stretching off into the distance much as the sea wall in Ray-Jones’ photo.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to James Hyman for allowing me to publish these magnificent photographs. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Day at the Races' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Day at the Races
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
13 x 20cm (5 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'A Day at Richmond Park' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
A Day at Richmond Park
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 25.6cm (7 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Chatham May Queen, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Chatham May Queen, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.2cm (7 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bacup, Lancashire, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Bacup, Lancashire, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.5 cms (7 x 10 inches)

 

 

James Hyman is delighted to stage an exhibition of rare, vintage photographs by Tony Ray-Jones to coincide with the opening exhibition of the Science Museum Media Space, Only in England, Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, in September 2013.

Tony Ray-Jones had a short life. He died in 1972 aged just thirty. But the pictures that he left behind are some of the most powerful British photographs of the twentieth century. His work of the late 1960s and early 1970s documents English culture and identity and brilliantly captures this period in English public life. Inspired by what he learnt in America in the mid-1960s, from photographers such as Lee Friedlander and Joel Meyerowitz, Ray-Jones was keen to make ‘new’ photographs of English life, which did not read simply as documentary, but also as art objects. As he explained in Creative Camera in 1968: “the spirit and the mentality of the English, their habits, and the way they do things, partly through tradition and the nature of their environment and mentality.”

The acclaim that Ray-Jones received after his death, especially from other photographers, testifies to the respect of his elders and his contemporaries. Bill Brandt praised the “very pronounced style all of his own” and lamented that “his death, at such a young age, is a terrible loss to British photography.” Jacques Henri-Lartigue praised Tony Ray-Jones as a “fantaisiste”: “young, free and whimsical with, in addition, a very sound technique and a vision of fire that was full of humour, truth and a sense of poetry” and Paul Strand praised his “remarkable formal organisation” and declared: “I found the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones very outstanding. In them I find that rather rare concurrence when an artist clearly attaining mastery of his medium, also develops a remarkable way of looking at the life around him, with warmth and understanding.”

These tributes are to be found in the most important book of Tony Ray-Jones work, A Day Off. An English Journal, published in 1974. They are included in a beautiful essay in which Ainslie Ellis, one of the photographer’s earliest champions, addresses not only the photographs but also Ray-Jones’s photographic process. Ellis stresses that what mattered to Ray-Jones was not just taking the picture, but also the creative process of deciding which pictures on a contact strip to print, and then making a master-print, from which all subsequent prints would be matched. We are, therefore, delighted that this exhibition should include many of the pictures reproduced in this celebrated book and that it present exclusively vintage prints, which, in a number of identifiable cases, are the actual photographs that Tony Ray-Jones exhibited in his lifetime.

Often playful and sometimes despondent, what Ray-Jones produced was unlike anything which came before, and was the catalyst for a generation of New British Photographers.

Press release from the James Hyman website

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bournemouth, 1969' 1969

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Bournemouth, 1969
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
16 x 25cm (6 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Brighton Beach, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Brighton Beach, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.5cm (7 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Mablethorpe, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Mablethorpe, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21cm (6 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Waxworks, Eastbourne, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Waxworks, Eastbourne, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21cm (6 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Durham Miners' Gala' 1969

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Durham Miners’ Gala
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 22.5cm (6 x 9 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Sunday Best' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Sunday Best
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
30.5 x 20cm (12 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Blackpool, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Blackpool, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
21 x 14.5cm (8.25 x 5.70 ins)

 

 

James Hyman Gallery
16 Savile Row
London W1S 3PL
Phone: 020 7494 3857

Opening hours:
By appointment

James Hyman Gallery website

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21
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny’ at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Exhibition dates: 2nd March – 26th May 2013

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Unemployed Workers' Demonstration, Vienna)' 1932

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Unemployed Workers’ Demonstration, Vienna)
1932
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.30 x 30.00cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

 

Another photographer unknown to me, who “attempted to use the camera as a political weapon, aligning her practice with the wider worker photography movement” and produced “images that show a sophisticated realism, marked by their directness and capacity to communicate issues of inequality and deprivation.” In other words she was using photography to fight the good fight, producing photographs that interrogate issues of poverty, unemployment and slum housing.

But there is more to Tudor-Hart’s photographs than just social realism otherwise they would not hold us so. Beyond a perceptive understanding of light and the formal elements of the picture plane there is that ineffable something that a good photographer always has – the ability to transcend the scene, to capture the chance encounter – be it the look on a woman’s face, the ensemble of children preparing vegetables or the untitled man ‘In Total Darkness’ (with traces of Eugene Atget). The aesthetic of engagement, the ability of her photographs to speak directly to the viewer in a vital, dynamic way, also speaks to the life of the photographer: studied at the Bauhaus, an agent for the Communist party, I would have liked to have met this artist.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Man Selling Fruit, Vienna)' c. 1930

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Man Selling Fruit, Vienna)
c. 1930
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.30 x 30.10cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Caledonian Market, London)' c. 1931

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Caledonian Market, London)
c. 1931
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
27.70 x 27.50 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Drying Room, Pit-head Baths, Ashington Colliery, Northumberland)' c. 1937

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Drying Room, Pit-head Baths, Ashington Colliery, Northumberland)
c. 1937
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.30 x 30.10 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

 

The life and work of one of the most extraordinary photographers in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s is the subject of a major new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Based on extensive new research, Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny, is the first full presentation of the Austrian-born photographer’s work. The exhibition presents over 80 photographs, many of which have never been shown before, and includes film footage, Tudor-Hart’s scrapbook and a selection of her published stories in books and magazines.

During the 1930s, photography became implicated in the vital political and social questions of the era as never before. The enhanced technological capacities of the camera and faster printing processes offered left-wing political activists new techniques for popular mobilisation. The medium took on a sharper social purpose, breaking down the traditional divisions of culture through its quality of immediacy and capacity for self-representation.

Edith Tudor-Hart was a key exponent of this aesthetic of engagement, with images that show a sophisticated realism, marked by their directness and capacity to communicate issues of inequality and deprivation. In a turbulent decade, she attempted to use the camera as a political weapon, aligning her practice with the wider worker photography movement. Tudor-Hart’s photography dealt with many of the major social issues of the day, including poverty, unemployment and slum housing. Her imagery is a vital record of the politically-charged atmosphere of inter-war Vienna and Britain during the Great Slump of the 1930s. After 1945, Tudor-Hart concentrated on questions of child welfare, producing some of the most psychologically penetrating imagery of children of her era.

Tudor-Hart’s life story as a photographer is inextricably tied to the great political upheavals of the twentieth century. Born Edith Suschitzky in Vienna in 1908, she grew up in radical Jewish circles in a city ravaged by the impact of the First World War. Her childhood was dominated by social issues in a culture acutely aware of the impact of the Russian Revolution. After training as a Montessori teacher, she studied photography at the Bauhaus in Dessau and pursued a career as a photojournalist. However, her life was turned upside down in May 1933 when she was arrested whilst working as an agent for the Communist Party of Austria. She escaped long-term imprisonment by marrying an English doctor, Alexander Tudor-Hart, and was exiled to London shortly afterwards. Notoriously, Tudor-Hart continued to combine her practice as a photographer with low-level espionage for the Soviet Union and was pursued by the security services until her death in 1973.

Tudor-Hart’s photography introduced into Britain formal and narrative features that derived from her training on the Continent. Her method initiates a dialogue with those she photographs, very different from the more distancing imagery of the photojournalists. Along with thirty or so German-speaking exile photographers, many of Jewish origin, Tudor-Hart helped transform British photography. After the Second World War, rejected by Fleet Street and the British establishment, Tudor-Hart turned to documenting issues of child welfare. Her photographs were published in Picture Post and a range of other British magazines. By the late 1950s she had abandoned photography altogether.

Commenting on the exhibition, Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Christopher Baker, said, ‘We are really pleased to be staging this thrilling retrospective of Tudor-Hart’s photography. It combines stunning images with an intriguing life-story and illuminates a turbulent period in European history. Tudor-Hart was one of the great photographers of her era.’ Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny is drawn largely from the photographer’s negative archive, which was donated to the National Galleries of Scotland by her family in 2004. The exhibition travels to the Wien Museum in September and will form the first complete presentation of her work in Austria.

Press release from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Children Preparing Vegetables, North Stoneham Camp, Hampshire)' 1937

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Children Preparing Vegetables, North Stoneham Camp, Hampshire)
1937
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.20 x 29.80cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Basque Refugee Children, North Stoneham Camp, Hampshire)' 1937

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Basque Refugee Children, North Stoneham Camp, Hampshire)
1937
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.20 x 30cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

The children are giving the Spanish anti-fascist Republican salute.

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Child Staring into Bakery Window)' c. 1935

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Child Staring into Bakery Window)
c. 1935
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
35.30 x 30.00cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (In Total Darkness, London)' c. 1935

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908-1973)
Untitled (In Total Darkness, London)
c. 1935
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
27.70 x 27.50 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

 

 

Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD
Phone: +44 131 624 6200

Opening hours:

Monday – Wednesday, Friday – Sunday 10.00am – 5.00pm
Thursday 10.00am – 7.00pm

Scottish National Portrait Gallery website

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12
Feb
12

Exhibition: ‘Daniel Meadows: Early Photographic Works’ at the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2011 – 19th February 2012

 

Daniel Meadows. '25th wedding anniversary party. Farnborough Park, Kent. August 1985'

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
25th wedding anniversary party. Farnborough Park, Kent. August 1985
from Suburbia, 1984-1987
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

 

In the 1970s, Daniel Meadows was at the forefront of the independent photography movement. His practice is complex, passionate and sometimes deeply autobiographical.

Daniel Meadows’ early work broke with tradition and infused the medium with new energies and ways of seeing. Between 1971 and 1987, he produced an astonishing record of urban society in Britain, working in a uniquely collaborative way through his interviews with – and writing about – his subjects.

Text from the National Science and Media Museum website

.
Many thankx to the National Media Museum, Bradford for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All pictures are copyright © Daniel Meadows except for the June Street, Salford which is copyright © Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr.

Daniel Meadows: Edited Photographs from the 70s and 80s authored by Val Williams

 

Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr. 'Untitled' from 'June Street, Salford', February-April 1973

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) and Martin Parr (British, b. 1952)
Untitled
from June Street, Salford, February-April 1973
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) and Martin Parr (British, b. 1952) From the series 'June Street, Salford', photographed in Salford 1973

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) and Martin Parr (British, b. 1952)
From the series June Street, Salford, photographed in Salford
1973
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr

 

Daniel Meadows. 'Brighton, Sussex. May 1974' from 'the Free Photographic Omnibus', 1973-1974

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
Brighton, Sussex. May 1974
from the Free Photographic Omnibus, 1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows. 'Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria'. Left: identified as James O'Connor. Right: David Balderstone. November 1974

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria
Left: identified as James O’Connor. Right: David Balderstone
November 1974
from the Free Photographic Omnibus, 1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) From 'the Free Photographic Omnibus' portrait series, photographed in Hulme, Manchester 1974

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
From the Free Photographic Omnibus portrait series, photographed in Hulme, Manchester
1974
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) From the series 'National Portraits: Now & Then'

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
From the series National Portraits: Now & Then, mother and son Susie and Peter Gatesy, Brighton, Sussex 1974 and London 2000
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) From the series 'National Portraits: Now & Then'

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
From the series National Portraits: Now & Then, twin brothers Michael (left) and Peter McParland, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, 1974 and 1995
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows. 'The Free Photographic Omnibus' 1974

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
The Free Photographic Omnibus
1974
from the Free Photographic Omnibus, 1973-1974
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows. 'Untitled' from 'Butlin's Filey, Yorkshire', July-August 1972

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
Untitled
from Butlin’s Filey, Yorkshire, July-August 1972
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) 'The Dome of Fun and Fortune' 1972

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
The Dome of Fun and Fortune
1972
From the series Butlin’s by the Sea, Filey, Yorkshire
© Daniel Meadows

 

 

The National Science and Media Museum presents the first retrospective of the career of Daniel Meadows – photographer, documentarian, digital storyteller and unofficial co-founder of a uniquely British photography movement. Daniel Meadows was one of a group of photographers who spearheaded the independent photography movement in the early 1970s, breaking with tradition and infusing the medium with new energies and ways of seeing. His practice is complex, passionate and sometimes deeply autobiographical.

Between 1971 and 1987, he produced an astonishing record of urban society in Britain, working in a uniquely collaborative way through his interviews with – and writing about – his subjects. Meadows is a documentarist and an exceptional storyteller. He reveals historic and culturally significant aspects of people’s lives, dating from the 1970s to the present day. This exhibition displays photographic works alongside oral testimonies by some of the people featured in the photographs and Digital Stories.

Meadows’ practice developed at Manchester Polythechnic, where he trained alongside fellow photographers Martin Parr, Brian Griffin, Charlie Meecham and Peter Fraser. Together they spearheaded a new documentary movement intent on establishing an independent method for making and disseminating photographs, outside the existing conventions of commercial practitioners and photojournalists. Meadows’ resulting work displays complexity and passion, and confers a personal and sometimes deeply autobiographical imprint. During his career he has produced an astonishing record of urban British society, working in a uniquely collaborative way, through photography, digital stories and recorded interviews, to capture extraordinary aspects of everyday life.

His career began in 1972, when he opened a photographic studio in a former barber’s shop in the Moss Side area of Manchester. The Shop on Greame Street features residents from the district who posed for a portrait which they then received free of charge. None has been previously exhibited, and a selection will be on public display for the first time from October.

Two further early projects are also included in the exhibition, both undertaken in partnership with Martin Parr. June Street, 1973, is an intimate portrayal of working class households in an area of Salford, which have since been demolished. Butlin’s by the Sea, 1972, presents a fascinating record of the holiday camp in Filey, North Yorkshire, just after the heyday of this style of British resort.

In 1973, Meadows, aged 21, also bought a 25-year-old Leyland PD1 double-decker bus for £360.20. He removed the seats to make space for a darkroom and living quarters and named it the Free Photographic Omnibus. He spent 14 months taking his Greame Street studio philosophy of free portraits on tour around England. Original photographs from the journey appear in the retrospective, along with a selection from a follow-up project in which Meadows sought out his Photobus subjects more than 20 years later to re-photograph them for National Portraits: Now and Then, 1995 – 2000.

Other notable works displayed include Decline in the Cotton Industry, 1975 – 1978, Welfare State International, 1976 – 1983, and Nattering in Paradise, 1984 – 1987. The gallery will also screen a selection of Meadows’ Digital Storytelling films. Condensing personal stories into two-minute features of approximately 250 heartfelt words and 12 images, he created “multimedia sonnets from the people”, leading American commentator J.D Lasica to call him “one of the icons of the Digital Storytelling movement.”

This exhibition and the accompanying publication is the product of research by Professor Val Williams as part of an ongoing study into British photography of 1970s and 1980s at the University of the Arts London. It is preceded by the research project, The New British Photography, 1968-1981, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Together Val Williams and Daniel Meadows have brought to light the photographer’s incredible archive of prints and negatives, along with ephemera and audio recordings. They have unearthed unpublished and sometimes forgotten treasures which add to a remarkable document – a dramatic, moving and empathetic evocation of a recognisable, yet increasingly alien era.

Press release from the National Science and Media Museum website

 

 

Daniel Meadows: Early Photographic Work

 

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
Foster mother and children
1972
from the free photographic studio on Greame Street, Moss Side, Manchester, February-April 1972
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
Portrait of Angela Loretta Lindsey, aged 8, with her brother Mark Emanuel Lindsey
1972
from the free photographic studio on Greame Street, Moss Side, Manchester, February-April 1972
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
Hell’s Angels
1972
from the free photographic studio on Greame Street, Moss Side, Manchester, February-April 1972
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
Untitled
1972
from the free photographic studio on Greame Street, Moss Side, Manchester, February-April 1972
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952) From 'The Shop on Greame Street' portrait series, Moss Side, Manchester 1972

 

Daniel Meadows (British, b. 1952)
From The Shop on Greame Street portrait series, Moss Side, Manchester
1972
Gelatin silver print
© Daniel Meadows

 

 

National Science and Media Museum
Bradford,
West Yorkshire,
BD1 1NQ

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 – 18.00

National Science and Media Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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