Bill Brandt was born in Hamburg on 2 May 1904 to an English father and a German mother. He made this watercolour painting of the family house in 1918 when he was 14. He suffered from bullying as a schoolboy after the First World War. Because of this experience, and later the rise of Nazism, Brandt disowned his German background. In later life he said that he was born in south London.
He probably took up photography as an amateur enthusiast when he was a patient undergoing treatment for tuberculosis in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, in the 1920s. In 1927 he travelled to Vienna, where he was taken up by Dr Eugenie Schwarzwald. She found him a position in a portrait studio. It is likely that she also introduced him to the American poet Ezra Pound. Pound apparently gave Brandt an immensely valuable introduction to Man Ray. Brandt assisted Man Ray in Paris for several months in 1930. Here he witnessed the heyday of Surrealist film and grasped the new poetic possibilities of photography.
Some early photographs are modelled on works by the French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927). Atget made a living selling his photographs, mainly of old Paris, to painters, designers and libraries. In the 1920s he was taken up by Man Ray and other Surrealists as a major photographer in his own right.
Other early Brandt photographs experiment with angular modernist styles and night photography. He travelled in continental Europe with Eva Boros, whom he had met in the Vienna portrait studio. They married in Barcelona in 1932.
Night photography became one of Brandt’s specialities and this may be his earliest experiment in the genre. Here he posed his first wife Eva Boros as a nightwalker in the red light district of Hamburg. Family and friends were to play many roles in his social documentary scenes.
“Brandt’s pictures survive and enter the memory because they were constructed by an artist.” David Hockney
Bill Brandt has been a photographer I have admired for a while now. Its his approach to photographing the body that I enjoy the most, because he adds different elements into his pictures to make them even more interesting. My favorite is the photograph of the ear on the beach, the detail in the ear and the background is amazing. This is the direction I will be taking with any nude photography we have to do.