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Prestige | Photo Essay | BILL BRANDT | May 2014

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Chelsea’s premier photography gallery owner, Michael I-loppen, is bringing a remarkable collection of images from the estate of photographer BILL BRANDT to Art Basel in Hong Kong. ALISON CATCHPOLE caught a preview of the works in London.

IF YOU WERE in New York last year. you might have visited the Museum of Modern Art. London-based gallerist Michael Hoppen did just that. “I went to MOMA for the most incredible show of one of my most loved photographers, and a little light went on in my head. To see this incredible full—floor. 100—percent— only Bill Brandt exhibition with queues round the block, I thought, well lets see if we can bring that to the fair."


Hoppen approached Brandt‘s grandson, whom he'd known for many years. “He was very reluctant at first and we sat down and I said were going to present a museum- quality show, of material owned by the family, and I think in the end we allayed all his fears. This has not come from the secondary market — we've gone absolutely to the source: Bill's material. It's his own collection that we bring to the fair. I don’t believe Bills work has ever been shown in Hong Kong until now.”


Born in 1904 in Hamburg to a German father and English mother, Bill Brandt spent much of his childhood in Switzerland. In 1929 he went to Paris and worked in Man Rays studio, absorbing the surrealism prevalent during that period. including the films of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali.


In 1931, Brandt adopted Britain as his home and settled in Belsize Park, North London, with the first of his three wives. During World War II he became a staff photographer for the British Home Office and the ground—breaking illustrated magazine Picture Post. After the end of the war, Brandt turned away from reportage to natural form. especially landscape and the female nude: one of his trademarks was the use of a wide- angle lens in close-up, causing body shapes to appear distorted. By the time he died in 1983, he was probably Britain's most internationally renowned photographer.


Hoppen is excited not only about the content of the 30 prints hes bringing but also the relevance. “Well mix his landscapes. nudes and some portraits. The reason that it works well within the context of Asian art is that it's very economical. In Chinese art, they use the white paper to create space. and that’s exactly what Bill did: he would use the White of the paper and of the shadows to populate other areas of the page, which would in turn make a shape. The images are so simple but incredibly refined. At the contemporary art fairs you're bombarded with videos, colours, paintings; I hope we create a small oasis of calm.“


A former photography student himself, Hoppen gained unique insight into Brandt’s working methods. “I remember being in a pub once — the Bunch of Grapes in South I-{ensington — with a group of students and he was there too. He actually used bits of beer that had spilled onto the table to retouch the prints. If you look at an original Bill Brandt print and you hold it to the light, you can see these little bits of black. He made the print from a negative, which he'd expose onto a sheet of photographic paper. Then he added his own small marks to that print.


"You can't stop looking, that's the strange thing about these images. They represent life in a very different way from painting or music or drawing. The interesting thing about photography and Bill Brandt is that it represents reality, and then he alters it.”

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