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------------------------------------------------------------- BILL BRANDT: A RETROSPECTIVE Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris 21 September-18 December 2005 http://www.henricartierbresson.org/ Reviewed for H-Museum by Prof. Dr. Antoine Capet, University of Rouen E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 'HOW DID WE GET INTO THIS MESS?' It can be supposed that H-Museum subscribers will be familiar with the photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983) for different reasons. A majority of people with a museological training and background will know his celebrated landscapes, portraits and nudes, which gave rise to substantial publications. Historians of art with a primary interest in the representation of the Second World War will remember his reportage in the London tube during the Blitz, 1940 - with a large number of originals now at the Imperial War Museum, London. Social historians, especially of "Britain in the gloomy 1930s", have for their part always been interested in the "Two Nations"  aspect of his photography. A "good" exhibition must therefore be representative of these interests and expectations while gently introducing the visitor who has come for a definite aspect of the artist's work to other aspects, which may or may not appear prima facie related beyond the obvious bond of kinship born of common paternity - a difficult task. Curating is choosing: in a case like this, when so many photographs have an historical dimension both as commentary and as primary documents, should the curator select the photographs which, in his opinion, have the greatest artistic merit (and what is artistic merit?) or those which have the highest historical relevance (a somewhat easier notion)? The exhibition at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson suffered from another constraint, in that the premises were too small to accommodate the 156 photographs originally selected by John-Paul Kernot, Director of Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.,  for the international travelling exhibition organised by CATE , which was first shown in New York (International Center of Photography, 1999), San Diego (Museum of Photographic Arts, 2002), Melbourne (Monash Galleries, 2002), Canberra (National Portrait Gallery, 2002-2003), Milwaukee (Art Museum, 2003), New Haven, Connecticut (Yale Center for British Art, 2003), Naples, Florida (Naples Museum of Art, 2003), London (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2004), and Copenhagen (Kongelige Bibliotek [Royal Library], 2004), with the number shown reduced to 117. Which 39 photographs were removed, it is impossible to say - but it must be pointed out straight away that Bill Brandt's great Blitz work was grossly, and therefore unfairly, under-represented among these magnificent large vintage gelatin silver prints made by Brandt himself. Of all his fine series on the East End people sheltering in the Docks, so well represented in the collections of the Imperial War Museum, only a couple of photographs were shown. In all probablity, then, it is wartime work which must have borne the brunt of the inevitable cuts. This does not mean that London at war was absent. The representation started with a superb moonlit picture of Adelphi Street during the Black-out in 1939, then come the destructions (St Paul, City Building), the population taking refuge in the Tube (the celebrated picture of Elephant & Castle Station at 3:45, 11 November 1940)  and the business-as-usual, bleak life of people from the lower classes, mostly in the East End (drinkers and prostitutes in Charlie Brown's Pub, Limehouse) or in Soho (prostitute in "Soho during the War, 1942"). Outside London, life also goes on - this time for the upper and middle classes - with the Epsom Derby (1941) and swimming at Windsor (1941). Looking at these pictures, it seems incredible that Bill Brandt was an "official war artist" with the Ministry of Information - a thinly-disguised cover for what was in fact the ministry of propaganda. Where is the morale-boosting dimension expected of someone on the official propaganda paybill? It seems that the organisers of the exhibition were somewhat put off by this role assumed by Bill Brandt during the war, as they never mentioned it on their wall captions - but they should have faced the apparent contradiction head-on, as we have tried to do in a forthcoming article to appear in _Lisa_. The most incredible aspect of it all was not Bill Brandt's acceptance and consequent possible restriction on his professional freedom, but the fact that the propaganda authorities should have hired him, considering that he was born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in 1904 in Hamburg (the summer of 1940 marked the height of the Fifth Column scare, with the indiscriminate internment of enemy aliens and the apocryphal slogan, "Collar the Lot!"), and considering the sort of work he had done so far - not perhaps quite the kind of "entartete Kunst" ("degenerate art") then denounced in his native country, but work certainly not associated with One-Nation reconciliation and social optimism. For some reason, Bill Brandt escaped the hysteria in spite of his name and even though he never lost his German accent - a fact which gave little credibility to his later claims that he had been born and brought up in Britain (he only left Germany at the age of 16, for treatment against tuberculosis at a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland). After six years of treatment, he went to Vienna, where he received psychoanalysis at the hands of Wilhelm Stekel (1868-1940), generally considered as a disciple who took Freud too literally - especially on the importance of sex and in the field of dream interpretation.  It is in Vienna, where he frequented arty-intellectual circles, that he first took up photography. By 1930, he was in Paris, finally settling in Hampstead, London in 1934. In his early years as a photographer, he had pictured Caledonian Street Market and its pitiful vendors of rags and old shoes (1929), Beggars in Barcelona (1932) and various gloomy street scenes of London: Stepney (1935, 1939), Whitechapel (1935), Peckham (1936), Bethnal Green (1937). The most astonishing photograph of this period is a night street scene in his native Hamburg (1933), where the not unexpected wall sign "Kohlen - Kartoffel" ("Coals - Potatoes") is found next to a shop advertising "Chop Shuy", with Chinese ideograms.  The viewer understands that he is in the notorious "red-light" district for sailors, and he immediately jumps to incorrect conclusions about the trade plied by the woman shown in the shady street - in fact, we learn from Paul Delany  that this is all manipulation, as the woman is his first wife, Eva Rakos. "Shocking the bourgeois" was of course second nature for Bill Brandt and his Surrealist associates in Paris c.1930, like his friend Brassaï and his teacher Man Ray, to whom he had been introduced by Ezra Pound in 1929. The point here is that the Ministry of Information people should have known that they were hiring artists like Bill Brandt at their own peril - the more so as his reportage of the economic crisis in the North of England in the late 1930s clearly showed that he still had an inclination for "the seamy side of life" when war broke out. The best-known of his pictures of the period - at least among social historians - is probably that of the Coal-searcher returning Home from Jarrow (also known as Unemployed Miner returning Home from Jarrow, 1937),  a composition which encapsulates all the bitterness of the Depression. The French translation given of the caption, "Mineur rentrant chez lui" showed a complete lack of understanding, not only of English (what of "Unemployed" in the English title?), but of the scene depicted - the average French visitor will have had no clue of what the poor fellow had been doing all day above ground. The scene of Unemployed Men playing draughts in a working men's club of Jarrow (1937), though less disturbing, also bode ill for Bill Brandt's prospects as a morale-booster for the Ministry of Information. Those who have read _Sons and Lovers_, the 1913 novel by D.H. Lawrence set in the mining districts of Nottinghamshire, will immediately recognise the scenes depicted by Bill Brandt further north in 1937 among the miners of Chester-le-Street (Durham), one with the wife scrubbing the back of the returning breadwinner, grimy with coal dust, in a tub located in the warmest place (often the only warm place, in fact) of the house, before the cooking range. A full view of the enormous cast-iron cooking range is given in East Durham Coalminer, Just Home from the Pit (1937) when we see the same man relaxing with a smoke before the range in the same room. Another scene in a miner's home, Northumbrian Miner at his Evening Meal (1937), shows the derisory relationship of gender domination, with the "master in the house" eating alone in his dingy environment under the sad eyes of his wife/servant. These Durham and Northumberland miners could of course count themselves lucky - they at least did not have to scrape the slag-heaps for usable fragments of coal, like their unemployed comrades in Jarrow: but how lucky?, Bill Brandt seems to imply. Yet his depiction of the plight of the unemployed would not be so striking if the next wall in the exhibition room did not show how the rich lived at the same time. The scene of unemployed men playing draughts in a working men's club of Jarrow, 1937 must be set off against that of upper-class people in evening dress playing backgammon - also on a low table - in Drawing Room, Mayfair, 1938.  We do not know how he penetrated miners' circles and persuaded them to let him photograph them in their clubs and homes - but we do know that he was introduced to Mayfair circles by his wealthy London family. The famous Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner (1938)  was apparently taken at his rich uncle's house. Likewise, the coal miner in his pitiful tub can be seen in contrast to Parlourmaid preparing a Bath before Dinner, 1939 - and the parlourmaid in question was also apparently in his rich uncle's employ.  We could pursue the analogy further, with a comparison between the street urchins of the East End (cf. the celebrated East End Girl dancing the Lambeth Walk, 1939)  and the refined leisure activities of the upper classes (cf. In a Surrey Garden, Cocktails before Dinner, about 1935).  But the most striking of all these contrasts is provided by Toffs and Tramps, Epsom Derby, 1937 : the caption is self-explanatory, with "Tramps" in the foreground and "Toffs" in the background - in other words, the Two (extreme) Nations on the same picture. The device had already been used on a lower key by Gustave Doré for his illustrations for _London : A Pilgrimage_ (1872), and one may be surprised, especially in a Paris gallery, to see that the wall captions did not mention Doré's plates in connection with many of Brandt's compositions, notably his streets of the East End, but above all his scene of a train on the arch of a railway viaduct (Newcastle, 1937) . Perhaps it is understandable that the intertextuality with literary works like _Sons and Lovers_ should have escaped the notice of the organisers who wrote the captions, but their failure to see (or at least to point out) the obvious filiation from Doré seems less excusable given their probable training in the history of art. It may be that Bill Brandt's pre-war and wartime reportage would not have been sufficient to make a name for him for posterity outside the world of social historians - arguably this was déjà vu with Gustave Doré and others in _Punch_, if not in the same artistic medium, at least in a cognate one. But in Bill Brandt's formative years before the war two of the future major strands in his work emerged beside his social documentaries: his portraits and his nudes - and _they_ have established his reputation for future generations owing to their indisputable aesthetic challenge. The first of his portraits, that of Ezra Pound (1885-1972) in Paris, 1928 - was of momentous consequence, since it started the chain of events that led him to the Paris Surrealists through his "apprenticeship" with Man Ray (1890-1877). From 1928, the portraits exhibited - which respect the actual time-lag - jump to 1941, with Robert Graves (Sitter's cottage, Churston, Devon). In chronological order, we can then see Dylan Thomas (Salisbury public house, St Martin's Lane, London, 1941),  Pablo Casals (London, 1945), Edith and Osbert Sitwell (Sitters' home, Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, 1945), Henry Moore (Sitter's studio, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, 1946), E.M. Forster (Sitter's rooms, King's College, Cambridge, 1947), Graham Greene (Sitter's home, St. James's, London, 1948) . Then, after a blank for the 1950s, except for Pablo Picasso ("La Californie", Cannes, 1956), we have a remarkable Self-portrait (c. 1963), with three extremely well known portraits: Peter Sellers (Film set of "A Shot in the Dark", Elstree, 1963),  René Magritte (Sitter's studio, Brussels, 1966) - and above all Francis Bacon (Primrose Hill, London, 1963).  No less remarkable are Bill Brandt's series of "eyes": Jean Arp (1960), Alberto Giacometti (1963), Georges Braque (1960s), Henry Moore (1972) - we have to take his word for it, since these extreme close-ups make it impossible to recognise the sitters. On the facing wall, just across from these bushy eyes and crumpled eyeball skin, one has a (deliberate?) analogy with Gull's Nest, Isle of Skye (1947), one of the best-known of Bill Brandt's landscapes. Also extraordinary (and not only in the meteorological sense, since it seems that Bill Brandt bided his time until the snow came) is the picture of Stonehenge under Snow (1944), which later made the cover of _Picture Post_, 19 April 1947.  Most of Brandt's landscapes originally appeared in the magazines _Lilliput_, _Picture Post_ and _Harper's Bazaar_ between 1945 and 1950, but a collection was published by Cassell in 1951 under the title _ Literary Britain_, since many of the scenes were connected with famous literary works like _Wuthering Heights_. Bill Brandt's taste for landscapes was not totally absent from his great outdoor nude pictures. One may think of his East Sussex Coast (1953), which seems to belong to both genres, though with the scales tipped in favour of the landscape, and of his other East Sussex Coast (1953) , where the nude has more importance. Even in Baie des Anges ([near Nice]1959)  the shingles in the foreground and the overall composition recall the landscape genre, in the manner of Henry Moore's figures in the open country at Much Headham. Still, his love for chiaroscuro effects - accentuated during printing - was best satisfied by studio, or at least indoor work. Thus we have The Policeman's Daughter, Hampstead, London (1945);  Campden Hill, London (1949);  Nude, Belgravia, London (1951)  and Nude, London (1952).  All of the photographs on display are collected in a hefty volume , and the French exhibition was accompanied by a theme issue of the art journal _Connaissance des Arts_, with a number of high-quality full-page prints of the works shown . As a total contrast in print quality, a showcase in the exhibition has vintage copies of _Lilliput_ and _Picture Post_, with the poor paper quality that one associates with wartime and post-war publications. The copy of _Lilliput_ (December 1942) is opened to show shelterers in the Liverpool Street Tube extension as seen by Bill Brandt in his photographs and by Henry Moore in his famous sketches on two facing pages. This is of course of the greatest historical interest in spite of the deplorable quality of the printing. The same holds good for the copy of _Picture Post_, 19 April 1947 (the one with the Stonehenge cover by Bill Brandt), which gives a large (though appallingly lacking in contrast) picture of the Coal-searcher returning Home from Jarrow on a page which faces an article entitled "How did we get into this mess?" Considering the pessimistic view of the human condition which exudes from most of Bill Brandt's work, some visitors may think that this would not have been an inappropriate title for the exhibition itself. Still, since it is not clear whether it is going to travel further, one can only warmly recommend a visit if occasion arises as reproductions in books, journals and websites are of course no substitute for the real prints. Notes:  "Two Nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy. The Rich and the Poor". Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881). _Sybil; or, The two Nations_. London, 1845.  Bill Brandt Archive: <http://www.billbrandt.com/>. Bill Brandt Highlights at the Victoria and Albert Museum: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/photography/brandt/highlights/index.html>.  CATE - Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions: <http://www.curatorial.org/>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5031-popup.html>.  'Que nous apprennent les « artistes officiels » sur le front de l' intérieur (Home Front) dans la Grande-Bretagne en guerre, 1940-1945 ?'. To appear in LISA, Vol. IV, No. 1, 2006: <http://www.unicaen.fr/mrsh/anglais/lisa/francais/tableMatieres.php>.  It is not known whether Bill Brandt continued to meet Wilhelm Stekel in London after he had taken refuge there in 1933 (he committed suicide in 1940). Looking at some of Stekel's titles, one can have an inkling of the sort of influence his teaching may have had on Bill Brandt's psyche: -Onanie und Homosexualität : die homosexuelle Neurose. Berlin : Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1917 (Auto-erotism : A psychiatric Study of Onanism and Neurosis. Translation by James S. van Teslaar. New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1950). -Die Geschlechtskälte der Frau : eine Psychopathologie des weiblichen Liebeslebens. Berlin : Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1920 (Frigidity in Woman in Relation to her Love Life. Authorized English version by James S. van Teslaar. New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1936). -Der Fetischismus dargestellt für Ärzte und Kriminalogen. Berlin : Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1923 (Sexual Aberrations : The Phenomena of Fetichism in relation to Sex. Authorised English version from the first German edition by Dr. S. Parker. London : John Lane, 1934). -Fortschritte und Technik der Traumdeutung. Wien/Leipzig/Bern : Verlag für Medizin, Weidmann & Co., 1935 (The Interpretation of Dreams : New developments and technique. Authorized translation by Eden and Cedar Paul. Arranged for American publication by Emil A. Gutheil. New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1943).  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5002-popup.html>.  The author of the most recent Bill Brandt biography: Delany, Paul. _Bill Brandt : A Life_. London : Jonathan Cape/Pimlico, 2004.  Visible on: http://www.henricartierbresson.org/infos/ressources/FR-DossierDePresse-HCB-Bill-Brandt.pdf  Visible on: <http://www.leegallery.com/brandt.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5023-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5005-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5007-popup.html>.  Visible on: http://www.henricartierbresson.org/infos/ressources/FR-DossierDePresse-HCB-Bill-Brandt.pdf  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5020-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.billbrandt.com/News/Reviews/yalebulletincale.html>.  Doré plate visible on: <http://www.cf.ac.uk/encap/skilton/illustr/Dore121.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5015-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5014-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5034-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5035-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5016-popup.html>. A full-page print is on _Connaissance des Arts_ - Spécial Photo No.5 (octobre-décembre 2005), p. 62.  Visible on: <http://www.faheykleingallery.com/featured_artists/brandt/brandt_frames.htm>  Visible on: <http://www.faheykleingallery.com/featured_artists/brandt/brandt_frames.htm>  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5038-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5013-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5042-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5041-popup.html>.  Visible on: http://www.henricartierbresson.org/infos/ressources/FR-DossierDePresse-HCB-Bill-Brandt.pdf  Visible on: <http://www.faheykleingallery.com/featured_artists/brandt/brandt_24.htm>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5017-popup.html>.  Visible on: <http://www.faheykleingallery.com/featured_artists/brandt/brandt_02.htm>.  Visible on: <http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5039-popup.html>.  _Brandt : The Photography of Bill Brandt_. Foreword by David Hockney. Introductory essay by Bill Jay, the career by Nigel Warburton. London : Thames & Hudson/New York : Henry N. Abrams/Paris : La Martinière, 1999.  _Connaissance des Arts_ - Spécial Photo No. 5 (octobre-décembre 2005). ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Copyright (c) 2006 by H-MUSEUM (H-Net), all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed if permission is granted by the author and H-Museum. Please contact: email@example.com --- H-MUSEUM H-Net Network for Museums and Museum Studies E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org WWW: http://www.h-museum.net