Photographs – book review.
If your library of photography books is to contain only a handful of tomes, then someting showcasing Bill Brandt’s work has to be on the short list.
Brandt may be one of the very few exceptions who proves that monochrome can be more powerful than color, for his is strictly a black and white vision of the world.
And what a vision it is. None of the work is derivative in any way, Frequently, the images are breathtakingly original. Whether it’s his landscapes, or gritty scenes of coal miners or fabulous distorted nudes (sadly there are too few of these here), the viewer looks on in wonder at how one man could have done so much that was new. New and, let it be quickly added, horribly good.
Who can forget his portrait of a troubled Peter Sellers, taken between scenes for one of the Pink Panther comedies? Or his haunting image of Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill. His picture of Sir Kenneth and Lady Clarke, the spouse looking up at her esteemed husband with awe and respect (both well deserved in Sir Kenneth’s case), is charming for its lack of nastiness, which would have been an easy and cheap shot in the lovely home occupied by the couple.
His landscapes are no less moving. See the shot of Skye with the gull’s nest in the foreground. An image that hints at the best the surrealists did. Then turn to ‘The Man Who Found Himself Alone in London’ taken in a 1947 smog, an affliction which London continued to suffer until the mid-1960s, when clear air laws finally allowed one to breathe easily. Timeless.
We are taught to adulate the landscapes of Ansel Adams which, by comparison, are little more than picture postcards, albeit ones snapped by a supremely competent darkroom technician.
Buy this, or any, book about Brandt and you will have one of the shining exemplars of the greatest photography of our time.