Research point:Socially committed B&W photographers

Bill Brandt 1904-1983 b Germany moved to England 1931

I  briefly looked at Brandt’s work for an earlier exercise — see link

Brandt’s photography was produced for books and magazines such as Picture Post , established in 1938. Illustrated magazines became hugely popular helping  “supplement a sense of national identity in years of crisis” (Jeffrey, 1981, pg. 244) and becoming “required reading across Britain , satisfying the public’s hunger for ‘the slice of life’ photo story”  (Williams , Bright, 2007 ,pg. 83 ) .Brandt was influenced by the surrealist Man Ray with whom he studied during the 19290’s.The English at Home , published in 1936 , and A Night in London 1938 were studies of British society and Brandt “frequently pre-arranged” (Jeffrey,1997 , pg.67) the scenes he photographed , “his brother and sister-in-law Ester are , for instance , entirely convincing as a prostitute and her client ” (Badger ,2007 , pp 84) .

In 1940 he was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to record London’s air raid shelters , the images are beautiful to look at , almost surreal , some “presumably staged” (Badger ,2007 , pp83 ) They not only capture the mood of the time but were useful as propaganda  to boost public morale proving  “that whatever Jerry could throw at them , Britons would carry on as bet they could” (Badger , 2007 ,pp83).

Brandt’s 1948 book Camera in London celebrated peace and recorded an idealistic London , “Brandt’s Londoners read by open windows , move unhurriedly through the streets or enjoy a convivial evening out. Altogether it is a dreamer’s city seen under soft sunlight , river mist and moonlight , animated , in keeping with the times , by dancing children and young lovers” ( Jeffrey , 1981, pp202) .

I grew up in a Bournville Village Trust property during the 1950’s and 60’s and was fascinated to discover Brandt had been commissioned to photograph the new estates in 1941. My parents moved into their new home in 1953.,9730,1210120,00.html

Brandt’s later work concentrated on landscape , portraiture and nude photography.
Printed in his trademark high-contrast style” ( Dickie (2009) pp 101) Brandt’s surrealist influences are clearly seen in his nude studies .


Badger , Gerry , ( 2007) . The Genius of Photography  How photography has changed our lives , Quadrille , London , UK.

Dickie Chris , (2009) . Photography The 50 most influential photographers in the world, A & C Black , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1981) . Photography A Concise History , Thames & Hudson , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1997 ) .The Photo Book , Phaidon Press , London , UK

Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK

Williams Val and Bright Susan . (2007) How we Are Photographing Britain from the 1840’s to the present , Tate publishing , London, UK
Accessed 4/1/2015
Accessed 8/1/2015
Accessed 8/1/2015,9730,1210120,00.html
Accessed 8/1/2015
Accessed 8/1/2015


One thought on “Research point:Socially committed B&W photographers

  1. Pingback: Exercise : Changing face of Britain | Judy Bach: Open College of the Arts Documentary Blog

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