Cover image for Bill Brandt : a life
Bill Brandt : a life
Delany, Paul.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
335 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
General Note:
Originally published by Jonathan Cape, London.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR140.B74 D45 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Bill Brandt, the greatest of British photographers, who visually defined the English identity in the mid-twentieth century, was an enigma. Indeed, despite his assertions to the contrary, he was not in fact English at all. His life, like much of his work, was an elaborate construction. England was his adopted homeland and the English were his chosen subject.

The England in which Brandt arrived in the Thirties was deeply polarized. He photographed both upstairs and downstairs, and recorded the industrial north as well as the society rounds of the affluent south. Although much of his work was for the new illustrated magazines, it was frequently influenced by surrealism and an eye for the slightly strange. The subjects of his portraits include the greatest creative figures of his age, and his English landscapes were sublime. His radical treatment of the female body forms a landmark in the history of the photography.

Paul Delany ambitiously traces the details of Brandt's life and reveals how the biographical facts and the fantasies that accompanied them deeply affected Brandt's work. The biography is richly illustrated with duotone reproductions of his masterpieces and a number of unpublished private photographs.

Author Notes

Paul Delany is Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English at Simon Fraser University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Known best as the World War II documentarian who recorded stoic Londoners crowding into tube stations to seek refuge from the Blitz, Bill Brandt (1904-83) is deservedly regarded as one of the 20th century's preeminent photographers. Signs of his early apprenticeship to Man Ray and, more pertinently, his Continental origins began to appear in his later work-primarily portraiture and mildly sexualized nudes seen in a semiabstract surrealist idiom. This first-ever biography is noteworthy for its account of the enigmatic Brandt's painstaking reinvention of himself as an English-born gentleman at a time when it was advantageous to bury both his German origins and a youth spent in and out of European TB asylums. Delany (former chair, English, Simon Fraser Univ.) writes a dense and perceptive life in 30 vignettelike chapters, weaving intricate biographical detail into thorough critiques of Brandt's photographic career. More pictures would have made this an even better book. Although many of his key images are reproduced, a small increase in their number-particularly those Delany discusses at length-would have obviated the urge to have a collection like Bill Brandt: Photographs 1928-1983, edited by Ian Jeffrey, available while considering buying this otherwise fine biography. [Also look for Mark Haworth-Booth's Behind the Camera: Photographs of Bill Brandt, reissued this spring from Aperture.-Ed.]-Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Delany (biographer of D.H. Lawrence and Rupert Brooks) took on a daunting, if not impossible, task. Those who came before to search Brandt's well-hidden secrets (born in Germany, insisted he was British, etc.) uncovered what forms the base for this work. As Delany (retired, English, Simon Fraser Univ., British Columbia) says, "In writing this biography ... I have had to build a house of straw rather than bricks." The lives of Brandt, his wealthy family, his wives--and the complex and curious relationships between them, are still largely hidden from view. Brandt's development as a master photographer--building on Man Ray, Atget, Brassai, Kertesz, Gregg Toland (cameraman for Citizen Kane), Fritz Lang, and Hitchcock, is solidly documented. Neither the speculation over facts, nor the ambivalent and tentative psychoanalytical surmising that occupy Delany (about Brandt's relationship with his father, his dependency on two women at a time, his supposed "sexual obsessions," his illnesses), help us better understand or appreciate Brandt's work (or life). Nevertheless, Delaney usefully fleshes out in more detail what we already know, and his book is best read in tandem with existing studies and picture books. Such an effort will build an acceptable image and idea of Brandt, and what his work is. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and up. C. Chiarenza emeritus, University of Rochester