March 6–August 12, 2013
The Museum of Modern Art
Bill Brandt is a founding figure in photography’s modernist traditions, and this exhibition represents a major critical reevaluation of his heralded career. Brandt’s distinctive vision—his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange—emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century.
Brandt’s activity during the Second World War, long distilled by Brandt and others to a handful of now-iconic pictures of moonlit London during the Blackout and improvised shelters during the Blitz, are presented here for the first time in the context of his assignments for the leading illustrated magazines of his day, establishing a key link between his pre- and postwar work. Brandt’s crowning artistic achievement, developed primarily between 1945 and 1961, is a series of nudes that are both personal and universal, sensual and strange, collectively exemplifying the “sense of wonder” that is paramount in his photographs. Brandt’s work is unpredictable not only in the range of his subjects but also in his printing style, which varied widely throughout his career. This exhibition is the first to emphasize the beauty of Brandt’s finest prints, and to trace the arc of their evolution.