New College of the Humanities

Brandt Image

Sheila Corr reviews the career of the master photographer who is the subject of a retrospective opening at the V&A this month.

Bill Brandt refused to conform to any fixed ideas of what photojournalism or photography itself was about. ‘Photography is still a very new medium and everything must be tried and dared ... photography has no rules. It is not a sport’, he wrote in 1948. The Victoria and Albert Museum is celebrating the centenary of the photographer’s birth in 1904 with a retrospective exhibition of his work based on prints from the Bill Brandt Archive. One of Britain’s foremost and influential photographers of the twentieth century, Brandt was in fact born and brought up in Hamburg of German parents, and did not settle in London until he was almost thirty. Entitled to a British passport through his father, who was born in England when Brandt’s grandfather was running the London branch of the family bank, Brandt spent his later life denying his German past and becoming English. He was christened Hermann Wilhelm, but he chose for himself the name Bill, unaware that there might be any class implications. 

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