Groundbreaking photographer Bill Brandt (1904 - 1983) will be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque, in celebration of his life and contribution to photography, at 4 Airlie Gardens, Campden Hill, London W8.
Born in Hamburg in 1904, Bill Brandt is considered to be one of the most important photographers of his age. From his early portraits, to his famous images of sleeping Londoners sheltering from bombs in the Underground, Brandt produced some of the most iconic and instantly recognisable images of the 20th century.
Brandt lived in a second-floor flat at 4 Airlie Gardens with his second wife Marjorie Beckett from 1958, although he had been living in a number of flats elsewhere in the building complex since 1949. Some of his nudes were taken in the airy high-ceilinged rooms there. Brandt’s third wife Dorothy (Noya) Kernot, in her 90s, still lives in the building, and her grandson John-Paul, also runs the Bill Brandt Archive from the property.
Part of an imposing Victorian block on the west of Campden Hill, number 4 is one of nineteen houses forming a terrace that was designed by the architect Spencer Chadwick and built by William Cooke in 1878.
Brandt’s body of work is varied, spanning social scenes, night photography, wartime documentary, landscape and portraiture. He began his career in photography when he was in Vienna, where he became part of an artistic circle that was heavily influenced by Surrealism. In 1929 he spent three months studying under Man Ray but a more lasting influence was Paris-based photographer Brassaï, the pair met in 1934 and maintained a lifelong friendship. In the same year Brandt moved to London and began recording the marked contrasts underlying British society with a “foreign eye”.
Once settled in London he documented the architecture, landscape and society of the country that he saw, producing a series of modernist photographic publications including The English at Home (1936), A Night in London (1938), Camera in London (1948) and Literary Britain (1951). Brandt worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, recording the conflict’s impact on civilians, and he was commissioned by the National Building Record to photograph England’s cathedrals and major monuments.
Brandt wrote, “Photography has no rules. It is not a sport. It is the result which counts, no matter how it is achieved”, adding “it is still a very new medium and everything is allowed and everything should be tried”.
John-Paul Kernot, grandson to Brandt’s third wife Noya, said: “This prestigious English Heritage blue plaque honours the life and work of one of the foremost photographers of the twentieth century. I am especially pleased this is the first blue plaque for a 20th century British photographer and it can be seen by Noya Brandt, his widow, who has been a staunch supporter of his memory. I was very fortunate to know Bill Brandt for some years as a child and spend time with him both here in London and in the South of France, although I did not fully appreciate his master status at the time. Despite being rather secretive about his darkroom work, I did manage to persuade him to allow me to see him work on one special occasion. it must have been because I was still quite small as his darkroom which was located in this very building was most definitely a one man space. In addition to his darkroom, Brandt took many photographs here, as well as living here and mentoring younger photographers.”
English Heritage Blue Plaques Historian, Susan Skedd, said: “Brandt was known for being a shy and complex character but he managed to produce unforgettable photography that spoke volumes, changing the medium forever. His endless experimentation and invention makes his work fresh and timeless and it is right we commemorate the man behind images that have come to define photography as we know it.”