Shadow & Light

26 Apr
Bill Brandt. Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair. c. 1942. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 7 5/8" (22.8 x 19.4 cm).

Bill Brandt. Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair. c. 1942. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 7 5/8″ (22.8 x 19.4 cm).

What an odd place photography, especially vintage black and white photography, occupies in the 21st century. And also, in my version of the 21st century. To recap, I have seen the conveyances of recorded music transmogrify from discs of vinyl to smaller discs of ferrous oxide to invisible pulse of energy, back to to aficionado approved vinyl.

Photography, which is a wonderful artform that combines light “the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible” with silver,celluloid and paper and someone’s inspiration, to those invisible pulses of energy that present them selves on our various screens. And while, arguably, diminished,the audience for black and white photographs is persistent.

Two oddities present themselves in relation to actual (not to be overly subtle, I must avoid the word ‘real’ here) photo exhibits.One is that you can gather an exhaustive cache of information about almost everything that relates to an exhibition including testimonials from corporate sponsors—naturally occasioning an inventory of the efforts (driving, parking, fees, crowds) required to visit a major museum. Like so many things, viewing art was once a simpler thing.

In this (any) case of Bill Brandt’s Shadow and Light is currently housed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries), third floor through August 12 skillfully organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography. Allow me to assume that your presence here in this far flung wat station of the cultural Internet indicates you are aware of who Bill Brandt is.

London 1945

London 1945


In case that does not obtain, here’s a curatorial note:

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…

Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light

Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light


The other oddity, of course, is the paper and cloth entity commonly referred to as a book, which serves as the exhibit monograph or exhibition catalogue. Shadow and Light (Yale University Press) is a well-published reference to its originating exhibit and to understanding Bill Brandt anew. You can access a PDF of the monograph here.

London 1953

London 1953

Currently reading The Carrion Birds by Urban Waite (William Morrow)

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