Bill BRANDT, Halifax Enlarge 1 /1


Germany 1904 – Great Britain 1983

  • France 1929, England from 1931

Halifax [Catch Point] 1937 Title Notes: Reproduced in 'Hail, Hell and Halifax' in Lilliput, February 1948
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph

Dimensions: image sheet
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1985
Accession No: NGA 85.1960

The reputation of the great British documentary photographer Bill Brandt rests in large part on his capacity to manage the tension between black and white in a photograph. For Brandt, strong tonal contrast came to represent the social and cultural experience of Britain between the wars – a place of vast contrasts between rich and poor, worker and elite, urban and rural. But strong tonal contrast, and blackness in particular, carried other, more metaphysical associations. For Brandt, blackness represented the forces and mysteries at work in the world, a place of power and tragedy. Blackness in a photograph also introduced ‘a new beauty’ to the subject, one that intensified the visual and emotional experience of it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Unlike many of his contemporaries who took up the 35mm Leica, Brandt remained loyal to his Rolleiflex camera which produced medium format negatives. With it he developed a signature gritty, high-contrast style. Brandt’s bleakly poetic images of the industrial towns of the north – taken on a single visit of a couple of weeks after reading J. B. Priestley’s An English journey – appeared in a number magazines during the late thirties and forties. His views of Halifax, a wool centre in West Yorkshire, and Sheffield, a hub of steel production in South Yorkshire, are complex and haunting. Sheffield, suffering severe pollution from the factories and a growing population, ‘could justly claim to be the ugliest town in the Old World’, George Orwell reflected in 1937. Brandt was, however, able to see what he called ‘a kind of sinister magnificence’. The children and a variant view of Halifax appeared in the photo-story ‘Hail, hell and Halifax’ in Lilliput magazine in 1948.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra