Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document – David Company

This article describes how photographs can reappear in other circumstances, which adds or differs meaning to the medium. Photographs can play different roles in different contexts, shift from one genre to the other and broaden or narrow its meaning to the audience, depending on where and when it is looked at. Brandt’s book The English at Home was unprecedented in the sense that he brought together photographs of different social economic classes, leaving it up to the viewer to draw its conclusions of the inequities that were shown.

Brandt had been unconvinced of the straightforward social description and trying to bring about social reform directly through photographs. He focuses on the rituals and customs of the daily life and through that is able to highlight the differences in an unconscious way.

The article describes how his image Parlour Maid and Under-parlour Maid Ready to Serve Dinner adapts new meanings and insights when it is published in a different context, it transforms into a image on its own, with its own narrative and meaning.

However, the article doesn’t really describe why B and W becomes such a trusted medium in documentary. It does note how the blacks and whites define the details in the photograph, which conveys deeper meaning than what is seen first hand. Also Brandt’s photograph seems to be a forebode of documentary images with decisive moments.

I don’t see why the stress is laid on B and W, since back in those days colour photography wasn’t as well developed and available as it is now. I wonder if it was a conscious choice. We do see Brandt’s work developing into more high contrast images, which lets the photographs stand more on its own.

Campany_billbrandt.pdf (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 8 November 2016).



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