Back to Black with Brandt...

 

I recently received a catalogue from Sotheby’s for their upcoming Made In Britain auction on March 16th. The front cover features a Bill Brandt photograph, Bermondsey Policeman c1930–39, but this is not the image as I know it... or is it? This Sotheby’s image is 1000% “Bill Brandt Black”.

Over the last few years I’ve collected every Lilliput magazine that features Bill Brandt’s work and I’ve catalogued it all. In the May 1946 issue, Brandt produced an eight-image photo-essay: Below Tower Bridge – a collection of photographs taken in and around Limehouse, Wapping, Bermondsey and Shadwell. And there it is: the policeman standing in Horselydown New Stairs, Bermondsey; but this photograph appears to be taken in daylight, shows a fair amount of detail and mid-tone grey, and is a reverse of the Sotheby’s catalogue version, which was printed in the early 1980s.

And now I know why...

When Brandt and other photographers worked for Lilliput (and also Picture Post), they were told to under expose their shots. This was because both Lilliput and Picture Post were printed using photogravure methods, and the presses simply couldn’t handle deep solid blacks. I read that this really jarred with Brandt, and he had to grin and bear it until the early 1970s – when he started to become a better-known photographer, have his own exhibitions and his work published in his own books. And those books were printed using photolitho which allowed the use of deep, solid blacks.  At last, he was able to control how his printed and exhibited work appeared – mega-contrast, burnt-out whites and 1000% Bill Brandt Black...

Bermondsey Policeman. Bill Brandt, c1930–39

Bermondsey Policeman. Bill Brandt, c1930–39