This article originally appeared in Nigel Warburton (ed) Bill Brandt: Selected Texts and Bibliography (Oxford: Clio Press, 1993) pp1–26. For this version I have made a few very minor amendments. In the book, the article was illustrated. You are welcome to download it for non-commercial private and educational use, but please acknowledge the source of any quotation.
©Nigel Warburton, 2004.
The public perception of Bill Brandt is based largely on a few hundred photographs which have been reproduced again and again, principally the images in the second edition of Shadow of Light (1977), his personal choice from his photography of the previous 46 years. Through judicious retrospective selection of pictures, most of which had originally been taken for magazines, Brandt controlled the body of work by which he was to be recognized as a photographic artist. Much of his work for a wide range of magazines including Minotaure, Verve, Weekly Illustrated, Picture Post, Lilliput, Life and Harper’s Bazaar, most of it uncredited, remains hidden in archives . Despite working on a number of fashion assignments for Picture Post, for instance, he excluded this aspect of his photography from his artistic portfolio .
Similarly the several hundred photographs of church interiors and monuments made for the National Buildings Record during the Second World War are virtually unknown . Even his brief excursion into colour photography, which resulted in the eight colour photographs of beach flotsam and sea-worn rocks in the first edition of Shadow of Light (1966) appears to have been edited out of the approved oeuvre at a later date. The colour photographs, taken on the beaches of Normandy and East Sussex, bear strong resemblances to his three-dimensional assemblages . These too are little known.
Brandt’s career as a photographic artist was constructed, at least at the outset, from his work as a magazine photographer. In this he was typical of twentieth-century photographers. He selectively re-used photographs originally conceived and undertaken for commissions, turning what began as illustrative work into personal artistic statement, scrupulously eliminating hack work, frequently revising the pictures by which he wished to be known. He used commissions as an incentive to produce personal pictures. In 1948 he wrote:
|I hardly ever take photographs except on an assignment. It is not that I do not get pleasure from the actual taking of photographs, but rather that the necessity of fulfilling a contract – the sheer having to do a job – supplies an incentive, without which the taking of photographs just for fun seems to leave the fun rather flat. |
Indeed, with the notable exception of his nude photography, almost all of his best-known photographs were produced on assignment for magazines .
Brandt’s magazine work is a rich source of information about his working methods and processes of selection. For instance, examination of an early Brandt Picture Post photo-story reveals that the dour-faced ‘Resident of Putney’ (as she is labelled in Shadow of Light [7), in an image which has frequently been reproduced in other contexts, is actually Brandt’s uncle’s parlourmaid, Pratt, the subject of a day-in-the-life essay ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ . This fact has eluded commentators since the photograph appeared with an even more misleading caption, ‘Putney landlady’, in the first edition of Shadow of Light (1966) . In Picture Post the photograph was captioned
|Taking Her Afternoon Off
Every Wednesday Pratt has her ‘half day’. She leaves at noon and makes straight for London, whence she visits friends at Putney. She does a little shopping, sees a film and is back again by 10.30. 
However, Brandt clearly did not think such information necessary to an appreciation of his photographs as art. In this case there was nothing to be gained by the viewer recognizing that the woman on the left in Parlourmaid and Under-Parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner was also the subject of A Resident of Putney. From his manner of presenting photographs in books and exhibitions, and from his minimalist style of captioning, it is obvious that they were presented primarily for their visual appeal. Background information about subjects was always kept to a minimum. Indeed, in both editions of Shadow of Light the captions were printed separately from the images, as if they might interfere with the appreciation of the photographs. As works of art, as opposed to magazine illustrations, these pictures were to stand on their own, radically decontextualized, and often transformed and simplified in the printing process. It was for their pictorial and atmospheric qualities that they were to be valued when hung on the gallery wall, or printed in the fine art monograph. It is interesting, in view of this, that Brandt’s contemporaries received his first two books as documentary polemics against social injustice and poverty, scarcely mentioning the quality of the photography: they were taken to be windows through which the viewer could peer at the extremes of poverty and wealth in English life. For instance, an anonymous patriotic reviewer complained of The English at Home (1936):
|In order to emphasize sharp contrasts of social conditions which can scarcely be peculiar to England Mr Brandt has hammered his point till it is in danger of being blunted, while he has almost ignored the life of maritime and country folk, and of middle-class business people whose week-end search for fresh air and exercise in suburban gardens, on bicycles is surely a feature worth recording. |
Raymond Mortimer devoted almost half of his introduction to this book to berating the state of a country in which ‘children are less well nourished than our dogs and worse housed than our pigs’ ; G.W. Stonier, writing in the New Statesman and Nation felt that with A Night in London (1938), Brandt’s second book, the photographer was making a social point:
|And, though Mr. Brandt does not underline his sympathies, his book might well be intended as propaganda for socialism. The contrasts it illustrates between wealth and poverty are striking. |
The contrasts in both books are indeed striking – the jacket of The English at Home juxtaposes the conspicuously rich at Ascot racetrack on the front cover with the conspicuously poor family in squalor on the back. In A Night in London, the elaborate late dinner of a wealthy couple is alongside a homeless man rifling through the contents of dustbins, the implication being that he is living off their scraps like a dog. The position of the waiter leaning forward to serve in the left-hand picture is echoed formally by the homeless man hunched over the dustbins to scavenge in the right; the backwards writing on a crate of rubbish in the second picture suggests that Brandt had deliberately reversed the negative when printing in order to achieve this visual rhyme and thus emphasize the relation between the two photographs. The Homeless Girl sleeping rough on old newspapers on some steps is placed alongside Footsteps Coming Nearer in which a man approaches a prostitute – the French caption A L’Affût du Client is more explicit than the English. In the layout of the book the line of the steps is parallel to the diagonal of the kerb in the second picture, making a visual link between the two images and hinting at the homeless girl’s inexorable movement towards prostitution.
Both books used such paired photographs to emphasize contrasts or to imply visual narratives and analogies, devices no doubt borrowed and adapted from the picture-editing techniques of Stefan Lorant, founder of Lilliput and subsequently of Picture Post. Lorant usually paired pictures (including some of Brandt’s) for humorous or satirical effect; Brandt’s photographic pairings were subtler, creating both social and formal contrasts. So many of these paired pictures played on contrasts between rich and poor that it is hardly surprising that Brandt’s contemporaries read a political message into them. Moreover, captions in A Night in London such as Dark and Damp are the Houses in Stepney and Whole Families Sleep in One Room  seem unambiguously to be challenging the status quo, as do the images they describe. Yet in an article published in 1959 Brandt distanced himself from such a reading:
|I was probably inspired to take these pictures because the social contrast of the ‘thirties was visually very exciting for me. I never intended them, as has sometimes been suggested, for political propaganda. |
Despite this seeming aestheticism, Brandt’s images of the East End were the natural choice to illustrate Picture Post’s ‘Enough of All This’ (1939) , an impassioned polemic against the evils of poor housing and poverty in London. Brandt’s images of bedraggled children and slum housing provided emotive illustrations of the sorts of conditions of want and squalor which the Beveridge Report would aim to alleviate. Brandt’s contribution to a photography exhibition at Marx House in London in 1940 included his disturbing image of a Spanish beggar contorted in his supplication – an image almost certainly inspired by Luis Buñuel’s moving documentary about extreme poverty in a Spanish village Land without Bread (1932) – and several images of impoverished miners’ families. One anonymous reviewer described them as ‘photography with a vengeance, in every sense of the word’ ; it is difficult to imagine that Brandt had not envisaged or even sought such a response.
If Brandt’s photojournalism was not intended to have political force, was his interest in these social contrasts purely visual? One clue suggesting that it was not, or at least that it was not purely formal, is provided by his well-documented fascination with his childhood book Cherry Stones, which illustrated the rhyme ‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, plough-boy, thief’ (perhaps some Victorian moralist had thought it necessary to protect children from knowledge of the existence of homelessness, changing the usual ‘beggarman’ to the innocuous ‘plough-boy’) .
Here distinct and contrasting social types were identified, named and pictured; the same analytical approach was at play in The English at Home. For instance, to take just two examples, there we find Cambridge Professor  and Bobby on Point Duty  presented as social types identified by their uniforms, as if Brandt were trying to anatomize English society – or perhaps an outsider’s fantasy of English society – by breaking it down into its constituent recognizable categories. Raymond Mortimer’s description of Brandt in the introduction to the book as ‘not only an artist but an anthropologist’  was apt; there is a sense in which Brandt remained aloof from his subjects, viewing them with a dispassionate eye, sharpened by distance. And if Brandt was not the reformer he was sometimes taken to be, that too was consistent with the stance of non-interference popular with the anthropologists of his time: the anthropologist’s task was to observe and record, not to moralize about the strange customs and iniquities of the land he or she was studying. Yet if Brandt was a photographic anthropologist, his documentary techniques were unorthodox: at every stage of his career pictorial considerations overrode evidential ones.
That an apparently documentary photographer should have given priority to formal and aesthetic concerns has disconcerted some commentators. The artist David Hockney remarked how horrified he was to discover that Brandt’s famous photograph of the house on which Wuthering Heights was modelled, Top Withens in Yorkshire, was in fact a composite image. The sky was added from a second negative. To disguise the way the photograph was created, Hockney argued, was a kind of subterfuge analogous to Stalin’s erasing of discredited individuals from group photographs:
|There’s nothing wrong with collage at all, but it should be quite clear that one thing is stuck on top of another. This photograph was not like that and so people would assume that it had been made from a single image. When you can tell that the sky is from another day and yet you pretend that it’s not, then I think you can talk about Stalinist photography. |
What alerted him to the possibility of this being a composite image was the strangeness of the lighting, a feature which contributes to the mystery and atmosphere of the image: a bright light emanates from the sky, but this is inconsistent with the bright light on the grass. Hockney had concluded that Brandt must have used a flash to achieve this effect until he learned that the image had been made from two different negatives.
What Hockney and numerous other viewers of Brandt’s photography had failed to appreciate was the extent of the photographer’s pictorialism. For Brandt, in every phase of his career, the camera was a picture-making tool; only exceptionally did he use it as a recording device. For him the effect was always more important than how it was achieved. Despite appearances, he was far closer in attitude to Henry Peach Robinson, who thought that absolutely any technique was permissible in photography, than he was to the strictures of the documentarists. As Brandt put it, ‘Photography is not a sport.’ What is sometimes hard to discern in his early work is unambiguous and forcefully expressed in his writings and interviews: ‘I believe there are no rules in photography. A photographer is allowed to do anything, anything, in order to improve his picture.’  This attitude to photography affected his practice in at least three ways: in how he directed what went on in front of the lens; in the darkroom processes he used; and in his retouching of prints.
Contrary to appearances, a number of the photographs in Brandt’s first three books, The English at Home (1936), A Night in London (1938) and Camera in London (1948), were staged using family and friends as models . Brandt’s younger brother Rolf, who became a successful illustrator, and who closely resembled Bill, acted in many of these. He is to be found in a dinner jacket hanging from a taxi in After the Theatre, standing with two friends in an East End alleyway in the sinister Dark Alley-Way (the policeman at the end of the alley was a piece of serendipity: he walked past as Brandt was setting up the photograph), and also talking with his wife Esther in Street Scene . He featured in at least two photo-stories which appeared in Picture Post. In ‘A Day in the Life of an Artist’s Model’ he is painting a stylized picture of the model for an advertisement; the caption names him, describing him as a ‘surrealist artist’ . In ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ Rolf is being served dinner by Pratt, their uncle’s parlourmaid . Rolf’s wife Esther is the Brighton belle wearing the ‘I’m No Angel’ hat in The English at Home . At least one of the several versions of lovers entwined on the grass in Hyde Park used Rolf and a friend. This approach is worth comparing with Weegee’s (Arthur Fellig) use of infra-red film to capture the manoeuvrings of lovers on a dark beach. Weegee’s candid photographs were intrusive, unethical, yet undeniably documentary; Brandt’s were of a different genre altogether: not candid, but staged; pictorial, not voyeuristic. Brandt’s directorial input to his reportage photography went beyond casting family and friends in various roles: on at least one occasion he carried a glass and china Victorian lamp with him to include in the background of a portrait assignment for Lilliput because he had visualized it as complementary to the photograph .
What are we to make of this technique of casting actors as characters in the photographs and of using quasi-theatrical props? What difference does it make that, to take a further example, At Half-Past Ten Mr. and Mrs. Smith Prepare for Bed is actually a photograph of a professional female model and a friend of Brandt’s rather than of what it purports to be, an elderly London couple getting ready for bed? Presciently, Raymond Mortimer wrote in the introduction to The English at Home of the pictures of poverty such as that of the children at a basement window Their Only Window, ‘These are photographs not of actors in realistic stage-sets, but of people as they are, in their real and unescapable surroundings’ . This implies that the photographs might lose some of their force had they been cast and staged, and that the fact that these were photographs of real people as they appeared should shame the viewer. If photographs such as these had been staged, we might feel that Hockney’s charge of Stalinism had some justification. However, once it is generally recognized that Brandt did indeed stage many of his shots, the documentary force of all his photography of this era is significantly undermined by the possibility that the image in question had been directorially manufactured. This may not matter much in the artistic context where his photography is more likely to be valued for its formal beauty and atmospheric intensity than for its literal accuracy. But knowledge of Brandt’s directorial input inevitably changes the viewer’s perception of his photography. As Charles Hagen put it on discovering Brandt’s directorial input to his early photography:
|Posed or unposed, Brandt’s work can now be seen as explicitly an invention, the fabricated proof of an emotionally urgent inner landscape rather than a simple record of an objective social reality. The essential mystery of his early photographs turns out to be not the Dickensian one of the city in industrial culture, but the Surrealist mystery of the remembering, dreaming self, imposing its emotional needs on the world around it. |
Some commentators might want to go so far as to see Brandt as a forerunner of directorial photographers such as Duane Michals or Cindy Sherman. These photographers use themselves (and in Michals’ case, his friends) as actors in staged scenes which they photograph in a tradition of pictorialism that dates back to Hippolyte Bayard’s Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man (1840). But the important difference between Brandt’s technique and theirs is that Brandt concealed the fact that he was using actors in some of his apparently documentary photographs; whereas these photographers do not disguise the fact that they are photographing a constructed reality: indeed they advertise it.
More plausibly, Brandt was not particularly interested in using the camera as a simple recording device. Employing family and friends to play the parts of prostitute and client, Eastenders, or lovers in the park was the best way of achieving the effects he desired. Photographing from the flux of life would have involved relinquishing aesthetic control, a sacrifice not worth making for undetectable documentary reliability, particularly if photographing at night when long exposure times were needed. Brandt was certainly not unique among photojournalists in his readiness to stage photographs: Brassaï, for instance almost certainly staged many of his. However, the fact that Brandt’s working methods, described by his brother Rolf , involved going out to look for suitable scenes which he would then re-stage, sometimes even sketching out his ideas in advance, suggests strongly that this approach to photography was very far from labour-saving.
Another facet of Brandt’s pictorialism is evident in his use of photographic materials and especially in his darkroom procedures. Much of his most creative and original photographic work took place after the shutter had fallen, as he commented in 1959:
|I can never understand how some photographers send their films out to a processing firm. Much of the powerful effect of William Klein’s New York was due, I am sure, to his very personal printing which stressed just what he wanted to bring out in the pictures. And imagine what marvels we could have had if Cartier-Bresson had taken an interest in printing during the early days of his career. |
Characteristically, he added, ‘There are no rules governing how a picture should be printed.’ A brief note on his working methods accompanying an article in Popular Photography in 1958 described him as spending ‘anything from five minutes to one week, or even longer, over printing a single picture, if necessary.’ 
He did not strive for realistic detail, but rather prized atmospheric effect, ‘the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty’, as he eloquently described it . Atmosphere for Brandt was not to be achieved by recreating visual experiences; the emotional response was all-important and could be achieved in a variety of ways. This attitude is exemplified by his use of an old Kodak camera with a very wide-angled lens which he used to produce anamorphic nudes reminiscent of Henry Moore’s sculpture. His approach to colour photography was also symptomatic of his general photographic outlook. He disliked colour portraits on the grounds that `the results are always too soft, they lack impact’, but thought colour could improve a landscape ‘particularly when the colours are odd and ‘incorrect’. Colour is so much better when the hues are non-realistic.’ 
In printing his negatives he would simplify and intensify the elements of the picture so as to arrest the spectator’s attention and evoke an emotional response. This is most evident in his later prints with their stark black and white contrasts resulting from use of a hard enlarging paper, often grade 4. This printing style, which he employed from the early 1950s onwards, with its elimination of superfluous detail and arresting chiaroscuro, is immediately recognizable: any photographer using such a technique now appears derivative. Brandt reprinted most of his established oeuvre in this style, unifying and reworking the different phases of his career and reaffirming the coherence of his output in the different genres, a process which culminated in the second edition of Shadow of Light (1977).
Brandt was no purist about the photographic print, a fact rarely mentioned. He would often add details with a soft pencil, retouch extensively with paint, or even scratch additional details on to the surface of a print, sometimes quite crudely. These alterations are often indetectable in reproduction, but many a Brandt vintage print bears the marks of his attentions and afterthoughts. For instance, some prints of the statue in Barcelona have had streams of water added by hand in white paint as if running from the statue’s umbrella: there is no indication that there was any water coming from the fountain when it was photographed. Brandt has simply painted the detail on to the print. He has added lines of emphasis in soft graphite pencil to some of the vintage prints of nudes. A photograph of a child standing by a window taken on assignment for Picture Post, has had a ‘smiley’ graffito scored into the paper’s emulsion, presumably emulating the wall graffiti of Brassaï’s famous series. He has painted the outlines of feathers on to at least one print of the photograph of a crane, Evening in Kew Gardens, a photograph which is in part intended as a self-caricature in profile. Once again, this willingness to treat the photograph as raw material for a picture, rather than as sacrosanct, underlines Brandt’s creative attitude to the medium, an attitude which very probably resulted from his early contact with Surrealism and in particular with Man Ray’s experimental approach to photographic processes. Like Brandt, Man Ray was concerned with the end result rather than the means by which it was achieved.
Brandt’s photography is often called Surrealist, though usually this term is used in a loose sense simply to convey its strangeness or dream-like quality. But can Brandt legitimately be labelled a Surrealist in any stricter sense? In the strictest sense, he was never a Surrealist since he was never officially admitted to the ranks of the true Surrealists, never ordained by their High Priest, André Breton. Nevertheless, he came into contact with some of the central figures in the Golden Age of the movement in the late 1920s in Paris, a period which Brandt later recalled as having been wonderful. His work ever after bore the marks of this contact. In 1929 he worked for a short period as Man Ray’s assistant. Although Man Ray proved a poor teacher because he was so rarely in the studio, Brandt claims to have learnt a great deal simply from looking through all the drawers and files that he would never have dared open had the great man been present. Brandt was not the only significant photographer to emerge from this atelier: Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller both worked as Man Ray’s assistants around this time , though Brandt did not meet them then. Brandt’s work subsequently appeared in the Surrealist magazines Minotaure and Verve. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he was, then, on the periphery of the official Surrealist movement, a position which allowed him selectively to cultivate the Surrealist sensibility. The effects of this are evident both in his choice and treatment of subject matter.
Surrealist painters, sculptors and film-makers had favourite themes and subject matter to which they frequently returned. Brandt, like many of the Surrealists, including Salvador Dali, Luis Buñuel and Hans Bellmer, was fascinated by mannequins and statues. He photographed them throughout his career – of the 144 images in the second edition of Shadow of Light ten feature statues or mannequins of some kind, and many of the nudes have transformed the model into a near mannequin with doll-like features, or else into marble sculptures. One of his first published images, no doubt influenced by Eugène Atget’s pictures of dummies in shop windows as well as by Giorgio de Chirico’s early paintings, was of a dummy with a tiny head and wide-eyed stare.This was used in Minotaure accompanied by a poetic essay by René Crevel, ‘La grande mannequin cherche et trouve sa peau’ . In this vein Brandt photographed the serene dignity of a stone angel standing kneedeep in shrubs in Highgate Cemetery  and the incongruous figurehead in a rock garden in Scilly . When, during the Second World War, Brandt was commissioned by the National Buildings Record to document cathedral monuments threatened by Baedeker raids, he discovered visual equivalents to his flea market dummies in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.
The eye, too, is a recurrent motif in Surrealist visual art, whether slit by a razor in Buñuel and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou; or photographed with glass tears, or cut out from a photograph and attached to a metronome by Man Ray according to his instructions for making Indestructible Object:
|Cut out the eye from a photograph of one who has been loved but is not seen any more. Attach the eye to the pendulum of a metronome and regulate the weight to suit the tempo desired. Keep going to the limit of endurance. With a hammer well aimed, try to destroy the whole with a single blow. |
In contrast to these examples of an erotic fascination with a woman’s eyes, Brandt’s portrait series of male artists’ single eyes express wisdom and melancholy as well as highlighting the formal beauty of the weathered landscape of the human face.
It is, perhaps, in his nudes taken with the wide-angle Kodak camera, particularly those included in Perspective of Nudes (1961) hat Brandt came closest to the Surrealist mood. Here we get a glimpse of Breton’s ‘convulsive beauty’ in the strangely contorted shapes which are midway between Hans Bellmer’s doll and Henry Moore’s organic forms. Here too he evinced something of the automatism so praised by Breton: since he could not control precisely how any picture would look when taken with the camera, he had to give himself up to chance, let the camera see for him, finding a visual equivalent to the automatic writing of the early days of Surrealism. Most of these photographs are curiously depersonalized: in Brandt’s work, human flesh becomes stone-like and surprisingly unerotic, a world not of passion but of the contemplation of forms.
Dreams and dream-imagery had a special appeal for the Surrealists as manifestations of the unconscious life, of analogical thinking and of the power of the irrational. In his 1924 Surrealist Manifesto André Breton wrote of the Surrealist’s belief in the ‘omnipotence of the dream’. Many of Brandt’s photographs have something of the quality of dreams, an effect in part achieved by the simplification resulting from the printing style. But very few of the images are explicitly photographs of dreams. A notable exception is a little-known sequence of seven photographs produced for the US magazine Coronet : ‘Nightwalk – a dream phantasy in photographs by Bill Brandt’. In this Brandt has attempted to photograph a woman’s dream imagery, including a Vertigo-like fall down the centre of a spiral staircase and strange ghost-effects produced by multiple printing, the five dream photographs framed by shots of the woman asleep in bed and of her waking. The nightwalk resembles the narrative of A Night in London in its span from dusk to dawn . It is significant that Brandt did not repeat this experiment and did not use these images in his later work. He seemed to have realized the shortcomings of such literal dream photography. It was certainly not in the spirit of Surrealism, for, as Max Ernst pointed out, the aim of Surrealist artists was not to depict the contents of dreamlife: that would be just more `descriptive naïve naturalism’. What it means to say that Surrealists paint dream-reality, he claimed, was that
|they freely, bravely and self-confidently move about in the borderland between the internal and external worlds which are still unfamiliar though physically and psychologically quite real (‘sur-real’), registering what they see and experience there, and intervening where their revolutionary instincts advise them to do so. |
Near-dream imagery recurs in all the phases of Brandt’s career, as, for example in the photograph of the Billingsgate porter with a huge fish balanced on his head, the nude-like landscapes and the landscape-like nudes with their disconcerting biomorphic shapes, the wrinkled eyes of the artists, the unreal cityscapes in the moonlight, Francis Bacon at dusk on Primrose Hill. By working in this area between dream and reality, Brandt displayed a Surrealist sensibility, albeit in milder form than Dali’s or Buñuel’s.
This sensibility was also evident in his non-photographic art. The three-dimensional assemblages which Brandt made in the 1960s and 1970s continued his exploration of the borderland between the internal and the external. Although composed of fragments of reality – starfish, skulls, feathers, driftwood, bark, sea-weed, broken glass, bird wings, shells and rope – they are, paradoxically, the least naturalistic of all his work. The components are no longer simply what they were, but have been made unfamiliar by their arrangement: they have metamorphosed into the limbs and bones of fantastic animals, elements of bizarre dreamscapes, lines and shapes in Miro-esque patterns of hieroglyphics. Some, like the evil sprite created from a dried fish perched in a thicket of driftwood, and reminiscent of an Arthur Rackham illustration, are figurative. Others, such as the pattern of brittle-stars, have a striking formal beauty. Most resist explanation, though many suggest dream imagery.
Sigmund Freud, whom the Surrealists revered, spoke of dreams as the ‘royal road’ to the unconscious: every dream encodes an unconscious wish in its manifest content. The aim of psychoanalysis was to uncover the latent content of the dream, which had been disguised by the mind’s censor. Prior to his time in Paris Brandt had been psychoanalysed in Vienna by Wilhelm Stekel, a pupil and former analysand of Freud’s . Freud mentions Stekel in The Interpretation of Dreams, both praising him for his intuitive dream interpretation and chiding him for relying too heavily on his personal sensitivity: the science of psychoanalysis, Freud felt, could not be constructed on foundations which required such individual acuity. No doubt during the period of his analysis Brandt would have been required to keep a dream diary and to have dwelt deeply on the imagery of his dreams, aided by Stekel’s intuitive interpretations, a process which cannot but have affected his visual imagination and primed him for his encounter with the Surrealists in Paris. There are strong analogies between Brandt’s photographic transformations of reality and the primary processes of the psyche as described by Freud, a fact which might go some way towards explaining the quality of mystery so frequently attributed to Brandt’s work. According to Freud, the latent content of a dream, the unconscious wish, is disguised by processes of condensation and produces imagery characterized by an obliviousness to the categories of space and time and a toleration of contradictions: objects in dreams have symbolic significance which the analyst may be able to tease out. The psychoanalyst Charles Rycroft defines condensation as: ‘The process by which two (or more) images combine (or can be combined) to form a composite image which is invested with meaning and energy derived from both.’  This seems at once to sum up both Brandt’s willingness to make composite prints and the way he combined apparently disparate elements and images by juxtaposition, giving a new meaning to both.
Like dreams, Brandt’s photographs often seem to stand outside time. This effect was in part achieved by a preference for still subject matter – Brandt was never a photographer of the decisive moment, his images never relied on fast shutter speeds and photography’s ability to freeze an instant. In fact, those which do feature movement, such as the famous one of a young girl doing the Lambeth Walk, seem curiously un-Brandtian as a result. More representative are still, empty landscapes, stone-like nudes that could almost be sculptures, deserted streets in the manner of de Chirico. The abstraction of the late printing style exaggerated the formal aspects of these subjects, further removing them from everyday experience. Space and spatial relations too are frequently distorted, particularly in the nudes.
Symbolization was a feature of dreams which particularly interested Stekel: he was responsible for persuading Freud to devote a section of The Interpretation of Dreams to this topic. Dreams are filled with objects which refer outside themselves to other things: this symbolization is part of the censor’s disguising of the latent content. The typical objects represented in dreams are, according to Freud, the human body, parents, children, brothers and sisters, birth, death, nakedness and most commonly of all, genitals and sexual intercourse. Freud identified a range of frequently occurring symbols for these things which could almost be an inventory from Brandt’s photography. The human body as a whole is frequently represented as a house; nakedness by clothes and uniforms. The male organ finds symbolic substitutes in things that resemble it in shape such as sticks, umbrellas, posts, trees; also in things from which water flows, such as fountains. Erection is represented symbolically by balloons. Among less easily understandable male sexual symbols are fish, hats and overcoats. Rooms, doors, windows and gates are symbols of the female genitals. Freud comments: ‘We have earlier referred to landscapes as representing the female genitals. Hills and rocks are symbols of the male organ. Gardens are common symbols of the female genitals.’ 
The viewer’s recognition of the familiar contents of the dreamworld in Brandt’s photography may contribute to the feeling that it goes beyond everyday reality. In his statement in Camera in London he stressed the need for instinctive responses to possible subject matter: ‘instinct itself should be a strong enough force to carve its own channel’ . This praise of instinct above self-consciousness is a Surrealist stance that surfaces again and again in the little that Brandt wrote about his own photography. The dream symbolism is a direct result of this reliance on emotional rather than purely rational processes – there is no indication that he consciously selected it. And even though many of the symbols are typical ones, there is no precise and simple meaning which can be read off from Brandt’s photographs. Like dream imagery, the photographs’ latent meaning is opaque to the viewer – as mysterious as the real meaning of a dream to its dreamer.
1. For information about some of Brandt’s major magazine photostories, see ‘Selected Magazine Photo-Stories by Bill Brandt in Lilliput and Picture Post’ Bibl. 37–112. [This is a reference to Nigel Warburton, ed. Bill Brandt: Selected Texts and Bibliography, Oxford: Clio Press, 1993]
2. For example ‘Paris Designs for the Small Purse’, Picture Post, vol. 45, no. 12 (17 Dec. 1949), p. 39–41, 8 illus.
3. Contact prints and negatives of these photographs are held by the National Buildings Record, Savile Row, London. For further details of this aspect of Brandt’s career, see Nigel Warburton. ‘Bill Brandt’s Cathedral Interiors: Rochester and Canterbury’, History of Photography, vol 17, no. 3, p. 263–8, 3 illus. (Autumn 1993) and the accompanying portfolio of photographs from Brandt’s negatives in the same issue ‘Portfolio: Cathedral Interiors’, p. 269–76, 7 illus.
4. 32 of these assemblages are known to exist. 31 of them are illustrated in colour in Zelda Cheatle and Adam Lowe, Editors. Bill Brandt: The Assemblages (Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto Shoin, 1993). [ArT Random Monograph]. See also Mark Haworth-Booth’s review of an exhibition of collages at the Kinsman Morrison Gallery, London (17 June–12 July 1974), Connoisseur, vol. 187, no. 751 (Sept. 1974), p. 74, 1 illus., reprinted below (p. 133–5) as a document. The assemblages have also been exhibited at the Zelda Cheatle Gallery, London (30 May22 June 1990) and, together with a series of vintage prints that Brandt made of them, at Reed’s Wharf Gallery, London (30 Sept.– 30 Oct. 1993). The press release for the exhibition at the Zelda Cheatle Gallery included the following comment by Brandt ‘Collages have one thing in common with photography – they are made from real objects that I find as I can find a landscape.’
5. Bill Brandt. ‘A Photographer’s London’, introduction to Camera in London (London: Focal Press, 1948), p. 17. The complete text of this essay, Brandt’s most important statement about his photography, is reprinted below (p. 84–93) as a document.
6. In fact Brandt received some impetus for even the nudes series from an initial assignment from The Saturday Book which was later withdrawn as a result of a purity campaign by the annual’s publishers. See Bill Brandt. ‘Notes on "Perspective of Nudes"’, Camera (Lucerne), no. 4 (April 1961), p. 7, which is reprinted below (p. 121–3) as a document.
7. Shadow of Light. 2nd rev. ed. (London: Gordon Fraser Ltd, 1977), plate 8.
8. ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’, Picture Post, vol. 4. no. 4 (29 July 1939), p. 43–7, 21 illus.
9. Shadow of Light (London: Bodley Head, 1966), plate 12.
10. ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’, p. 46.
11. Anon. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1780 (14 March 1936), p. 225.
12. Raymond Mortimer. Introduction to The English at Home (London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1936), p. 8. The complete text of this introduction is reprinted below (p, 33–6) as a document.
13. G.W. Stonier. ‘London Night’, The New Statesman and Nation, vol. 16, no. 386 new series (16 July 1938).
14. A Night in London (London: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1938), plates 24 and 25.
15. Bill Brandt. Photography, vol. 14, no. 6 (June 1959), p. 32.
16. Picture Post, vol. 2, no. 13 (1 April 1939), p. 54–7.
17. Anon. ‘Modern Photography at Marx House’, New Statesman and Nation, vol. 20, no. 492 (27 July 1940), p. 87–8.
18. Cherry Stones illustrated by Chas. Crombie, verses by Alice M. Raiker (Leeds and London: Alf Cooke Ltd, no date). David Mellor has analysed the significance of this book for Brandt in his introduction to the catalogue of the Royal Photographic Society retrospective exhibition of Brandt’s work (1981) and in his essay ‘Brandt’s Phantasms’, in Bill Brandt: Behind the Camera (Oxford: Phaidon, 1985).
19. The English at Home, plate 42.
20. The English at Home, plate 3.
21. Mortimer, p. 4.
22. David Hockney. Hockney on Photography. Conversations with Paul Joyce (London: Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1988), p. 45.
23. Quoted in Bill Jay. ‘Bill Brandt – The Best From Britain’, Creative Camera Owner, no. 38 (Aug. 1967), p. 161.
24. This information comes from Mark Haworth-Booth’s essays in Bill Brandt: Behind the Camera and from Patrick Roegiers’ book Bill Brandt: Essai (Paris: Belfond, 1990). However, the earliest mention of this aspect of his working methods occurs in Alexander King’s article ‘One Photographer’s Formula: The Story of Bill Brandt "The SuperOptical Night Bird"’, Minicam Photqgraphy, no. 3 (July 1940), p. 52 which includes the following comments: ‘He frequently finds some suitable locale and then persuades some friend to dress becomingly for that part of town where the picture is to be made. He never employs professional models because such people have invariably been spoiled by occupational maladies, such as, unnecessary eagerness, a tendency towards slick and obvious posturing.’
25. A Night in London, plate 37.
26. Picture Post, vol. 2, no. 4 (28 Jan. 1939), p. 34–7. Rolf Brandt’s illustrations of Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, published in 1945, were influenced by his brother’s experiments with the Kodak Wide Angle camera he used to photograph nudes. See Apparitions (London: The South Bank Centre, 1981), a catalogue of an exhibition of Rolf Brandt’s illustrations (Main Foyer, Royal Festival Hall, London, 7 March–2 May 1981), especially the introduction ‘The Book Illustrations of R.A. Brandt’ by John Keir Cross.
27. ‘The Perfect’, plate 62.
29. This incident is described by Tom Hopkinson in ‘A Retrospect’, in Literary Britain, 2nd rev. ed. (London: Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd, 1986).
30. Mortimer, op. cit. p. 7.
31. Charles Hagen. ‘Bill Brandt’s Documentary Fiction’, Artforum, vol. 24, no. 1 (Sept. 1985), p. 112.
32. Quoted in Bill Brandt: Behind The Camera, p. 83.
33. Bill Brandt. Photography (June 1959), p. 32.
34. ‘Bill Brandt’, Popular Photography, vol. 4, no. 10 (July 1958), p. 52.
35. ‘A Photographer’s London’, p. 11.
36. Quoted in Bill Jay, op. cit. p. 162.
37. Lee Miller gives an insight into Man Ray’s methods in ‘I Worked With Man Ray’, Lilliput, (Oct. 1941).
38. Minotaure, no. 5 (1934) p. 18.
39. Shadow of Light, 2nd rev. ed., plate 9 Highgate Cemetery.
40. Shadow of Light, 2nd rev. ed., plate 66 Figure-head in a garden, Isles of Scilly (1934).
41. Quoted in Roland Penrose. Man Ray (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), p. 109.
42. ‘Nightwalk: A Dream Phantasy in Photographs by Bill Brandt’. Coronet (U.S.) vol. 9, no. 3, whole no. 51 (Jan. 1941), p. 47–54, 7 illus.
43. They even have a photograph in common: the image that was captioned ‘Dark and Damp are the Houses of Stepney’ in A Night in London reappears here with the image of a woman holding a dog under her arm superimposed. The woman’s hands in the image in ‘Nightwalk’ of her falling down the centre of a spiral staircase precisely match those of the statue, Shadow of Light, 2nd rev. ed., plate 68.
44. Max Ernst. ‘What is Surrealism?’ [p. 134–7] in Lucy R. Lippard, Editor. Surrealists on Art (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970) p. 135–6.
45. David Mellor has discussed the possible effects of Brandt’s psychoanalysis by Stekel in ‘Brandt’s Phantasms’ in Bill Brandt: Behind the Camera; Ian Jeffrey also discusses Stekel in his introduction to Bill Brandt Photographs 1929–1983 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993). For further information about Stekel and his relation to Freud, see Paul Roazen Freud and His Followers (New York: Da Capo Press, 1992).
46. Charles Rycroft. A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London: Penguin, 1972), p. 22.
47. Sigmund Freud. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (London: Penguin, 1973), p. 192.
48. Bill Brandt. ‘A Photographer’s London’, p. 10.
© Nigel Warburton, 2004