Shelter Photographs Taken in London by Bill Brandt, November 1940

Shelter Photographs Taken in London by Bill Brandt, November 1940

Bill Brandt was a pioneer of photography.  He broke boundaries when it came to what to shoot, how to shoot, and how to develop the photos.  Prior to me visiting the Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, I had little to no idea of who Mr. Brandt was.  I, myself, love photography but I unfortunately rarely, if ever, have the time to devote to researching its founding figures.  This exhibit truly gives you a glimpse into what Bill Brandt was thinking and how he developed film into a beautiful photograph.

One of the most important things I learned was that Bill Brandt had a special way of developing his film.  He was shooting photography long before the days of Adobe and Picassa.  He had carefully skilled methods to develop his film.  “It takes a long time to produce a good print”, he once said.  He felt strongly about the photographer taking the time and effort to develop his own photos.  The majority of his prints are on grade 4 extra hard paper.  This particular paper brings out more detail in a print.  That right there is one of the reasons I miss film photography.  Mr. Brandt truly believed in trial and error, and knowing what he wanted and how he wanted it to appear once the print was final.

This exhibit also told a story of Mr. Brandt’s most formative years in the photography world.  Within the exhibit are prints from 1930’s London, where Bill Brandt became a key player among photographers.  You then travel with the photos to Paris, where he continued his fame.  This exhibit is powerful in the sense that you are not just looking at interesting photographs, you are also being told a story.  Brandt’s photography was not completely “posed” and “specific”.  A lot of his photos focused on every day occurrences.  One of my favorite examples of this was a photo of a miner, freshly home from work, sitting at a table eating dinner.  In this photo, the miner is still covered in dirt from the day’s work and his wife is sitting and watching him enjoy his meal.  Another series of photos were from when various people were sleeping in tunnels.  From afar, it appeared to be piles and piles of people on top of one another, but once you saw it up close you realized how powerful these photos were (and still are).  My favorite from the particular set was a young daughter, her father, and the daughter’s baby doll all sleeping next to one another.  Even the doll possessed a powerful emotion that came across just by examining the photo.

Bill Brandt was best-known for his series of nude photographs taken between 1945 and 1961.  These nudes were tasteful and well-done.  There were several of them that I did not even realize were nudes until I stepped closer and said to myself, “Wait a minute”.  Every single photo displayed something far more important than an exposed body part.  The raw emotion that was captured by these series of nudes is truly powerful.  The only fact that made me frown a bit was that most of his nudes were close friends or family members. Then again, I suppose if someone feels a certain closeness and a level of comfort with you, why not?  This was a wonderful exhibit and I am glad I had the opportunity to enjoy it.  If you do visit, be sure to read the text before each series of photos.  The exhibit is currently running until August 12, 2013 at MoMA.  Target Free Fridays run every Friday between 4 and 8 PM if you are interested in attending for free.

Kristy Rody: