Research a well-known 20th century subject or person…
As you’re involved in an arts programme with an emphasis on contemporary practice, select a topic which relates to the twentieth century or later. Your topic should be something you’re particularly interested in and are keen to spend some time looking into. Avoid picking an obscure topic, or a topic/person who has come to prominence only recently. These topics will have very little research material available which will make your task significantly harder. Select a subject or person that is well-known, so that there’s sufficient information available across a wide range of forms such as magazines and books, exhibitions, media broadcasts, etc.
In line with the suggested researching criteria as part of the “An Introduction to Studying in HE” document on the OCA Student website.
The course criteria recommends that for best practice different sources are used for research purposes (taking care to authenticate the source) and should be from the following:
- at least two books
- at least two journals or magazines
- no more than one reputable website
- a set of notes that have been made at a gallery or exhibition
I searched online for 20th Century Photographers. Being new to this medium, a specific topic or person did not immediately spring to mind – so I googled it. Many results came up, so I went to the images section and decided to search through those to see which ones caught my eye and which I could envisage as inspiration for a future photographic experiment. I looked at the works of Eugene Atget, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, and others.
I was drawn to the work of Bill Brandt and in particular his more art style nudes and his eye photographs. I myself use an eye motif for my social media accounts and have a general affinity with them, as they say they are the windows to the soul.
I am not necessarily interested in black and white photography but I felt this treatment worked well with Brandt’s subjects and style of his photography.
Therefore, for this particular pre-course Research Trail assignment I decided to choose Bill Brandt as my topic to further research.
To organise my thoughts on this initial research assignment I use an App called iBrainstorm which allows you to use virtual ‘post-its’ to gather your thoughts in one place. This can then be changed and added to as new information is gathered or where project plans change but I thought I would share this with you as I have found it to be a useful tool for bigger projects.
So here is my initial brainstorming map for my research trail into Bill Brandt:
The map above also includes some general comments of things I was not aware of, for example; I didn’t know you could go and view collections at both the V&A and British Library in their reading rooms.
The Victoria and Albert Museum (‘V&A’) (www.vam.ac.uk) also has a lot of information held online about him. The V&A has a system whereby you can request to view works that they own but which are not currently on exhibit, in one of their study rooms (by appointment only).
I also noted that there were a number of books which could be sourced, either by purchasing them or via The British Library which has reading rooms where you can arrange to see more of the photographers work.
Using the suggested routes to research I started on the internet, I searched for Brandt and found that he has his own website (www.billbrandt.com). Well, it’s more of an archive of his work set up by Bill Brandt Archive Ltd to sell his work. It has a simple layout and easy to navigate.
The first thing I note from a quote on the website is that Brandt seems to be a photography rule breaker or at least he does not concern himself with the rules of photography:
“I’m not interested in rules or conventions. Photography is not a sport.”
– Bill Brandt
I found this interesting because no doubt the course will be teaching me the rules to follow, but I guess it’s only once you’ve learned the rules that you can decide to break them.
It has a lot of Brandt images which I found aesthetically pleasing.
I decided that my next research source would be a book so I decided to buy Brandt Nudes: A New Perspective, because it has a lot of the images which were catching my eye online so I wanted a physical book to thumb through and get a better look at the images.Also on the website there was a review by Joanna Pitman from The Sunday Times wrote:
“On a pebbly beach in East Sussex in 1953, Bill Brandt persuaded a model to lie down naked on the wet shingle and stretch out her body in the wind with her head and shoulders just inches from the incoming spume of the waves. Brandt then lay down and placed his camera inches from her pillowy bottom.”
– Joanna Pitman for The Sunday Times, 2004
This captured my imagination and I thought it would be great to be able to take images which invoked this response.
Before heading in to the book here are some facts about Bill Brandt:
- born in 1904, died in London aged 79 (1983),
- Father was British, mother was German,
- one of the most respected British photographers of the 20th century,
- his career spanned 50 years,
- he worked in a range of genres,
- regularly contributed to magazines such as Lilliput, Picture Post, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Brandt Nudes: A New Perspective:
The book is great and I would thoroughly recommend it. A number of images stood out for me such as:
- Nude, St. Cyprien France 1957, October – page 90
Abstract of legs and a foot on a sandy beach
- Nude. Baie des Anges, France c. 1959 – page 97
Hand and pebbles on a pebbled beach with the sea in the background
- Nude, East Sussex Coast 1959 – page 106
Two knees and an elbow, with the beach and sea in the distance
- Nude, East Sussex Coast 1958, January 10 – page 111
Bent elbow with beach and sea in the background
- Nude. Baie des Anges, France 1959 – page 112
Entwined legs on a pebbled beach
- Nude, East Sussex Coast c. 1959 – page 115
Chest and arm with beach in the background
- Nude, Taxo d’Aval, France 1957 – page 117
Back of the head and shoulder with hand on hair, beach and sea in background
But my favourite is Nude, East Sussex Coast 1977, July – page 167
This is a shot of a nude’s back showing spine definition at the top of the spine but with no head or limbs in shot. They are sitting on a rock, with cliffs to the left and the beach and sea in the background. I love the form, contrast and shadows in this photo. I note to buy a 20 x 16 inch print of this image would cost £2,000.
To round off this Blog post, unfortunately I have not managed to get to see any of Brandt’s work up close and personal yet, but I do want to visit some exhibitions and access as many resources as possible throughout the course so hopefully one day I will get to see some of Brandt’s work in real life. So although this section is titled Final Summary this is only the beginning of my research trail and hope to be able to re-visit Brandt’s work later in the course.
The Photography of Bill Brandt (2015) Bill Brandt Archive Ltd, Available at: http://www.billbrandt.com/ (Accessed: February 2016).
Joanne Pitman, The Sunday Times 2004 (2015) Flesh, form and a flash, Available at: http://www.billbrandt.com/bill-brandt-flesh-form-and-a-flash/?rq=pitman (Accessed: February 2016).
Wikipedia, Bill Brandt, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Brandt (Accessed: February 2016).
Bill Brandt, Lawrence Durrell, Mark Haworth-Booth (2012) Brandt Nudes: A New Perspective, : Thames & Hudson.