Bill Brandt, quietly confident.

Went to the V&A today to see the Brandt exhibition, and now I’m stuck for a hyperbole. Most of the prints on show are ‘vintage’, as in they were printed around the same time as the neg. was dev’d. In most cases by Brandt himself, who professed to always do his own printing.

I’ve been into Brandt since my Photography GCSE, And seeing them in ‘the flesh’ was great way to spend an hour. You can scrutinise a photo in a gallery, picking over it and ferreting out all the background detail. It’s not the same on a screen or page.

See I have a bad experience in meeting works of art for the first time. I remember going to MOMA in NYC as a student and seeing a Jasper Johns that’d I’d loved since college, and being really let down by how… messy it was. Same for Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space which I first saw at the Tate, I say saw, I nearly tripped over it. In my copy of Modern Sculpture by Herbie Read it looked like a massive futuristic monument, taller than a man; it real life it’s 4′ if that.

Anyway, Brandt was great. Watching a interview filmed by the BBC in 1983 just months before he died, leafing through 50 year old prints and summing up his life, his time in Jarrow, his portraits of pre-war London life, he seemed such a easy going, quietly happy man.

Here’s some of his most famous pieces:

Girl doing Lambeth Walk typified the cockney sparrah’ sprit. Going home came to represent the depression as felt in the North of Emgland. Francis Bacon. This always reminds me of Narna. Hampstead. No one does nudes well anymore….

But this was my absolute favourite Young Housewife in Bethnal Green, c. 1935. To me It speaks about poverty, and being frightened, yet also hope and love, in the glint of sunlight off her new wedding ring. You can’t really see it in this scan… So I’d advise going the the V&A to see it in the flesh, you won’t be disappointed.

PS. Took this shot in the courtyard. The guy was honestly posing like that for 20mins reading a news paper! I pretended to sunbath lying down, hence to odd viewpoint. Don’t know why the other guy was being photographed.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
April 2004

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