Yesterday I mentioned “that snicket” in my post without really giving much information save that it is in the Dean Clough area of Halifax. Now fans of a particular photographer will probably work it out just from that one word – “snicket”. I refer of course to a particular photograph taken by legendary British photographer, and hero of mine, Bill Brandt called simply “Snicket, Halifax” and made in 1937.
My interest in Brandt stems from that single image from 1937, which as well as being an iconic Brandt image is also one of my personal favourites. I am currently re-reading Bill Brandt: Photographs 1928-1983 which covers every aspect of his art from his early days in 1920’s Paris onwards and including his studies of the English, portraiture, landscape and his 1960’s nudes and is a fabulous introduction for any one interested in finding out more about Bill Brandt. As well as an introductory essay from Ian Jeffrey (Head of Art History at the University of London Goldsmith’s College from 1970-1987) there are four factual appendices and a useful bibliography.
Whilst the essay sketches an interesting picture and certainly gives a feel for the man and his photography it doesn’t really do more than scratch the surface in my mind. However, it was a fascinating read and led me to research and learn more about someone who has been described as one of the greatest British photographers.
It is clearly difficult to cover the entire works of such an icon of the twentieth century in two hundred photographs but they do give a real flavour and in fact the Guardian newspaper is quoted on the cover as saying “This superb book is the definitive collection”. It’s hard to argue with such a statement as I have spent several hours absorbed in this book over the last couple of days and this is on a third reading too.
There are many highlights but the landscapes from the north of England resonate most with me. “The Northern Capital in Winter” (p132) is a masterclass in minimalism and use of receding tones as too is “Over the Sea to Skye” (p138). “Top Withens” (p135) uses shadow and tonal changes as part of the composition turning a potentially bland foreground into a key element of the composition and strengthening my resolve to learn more about his post-capture interventions. Another composition featuring Top Withens (p140) makes great use of highly contrasting black and white tones.
Having found a connection via the Halifax snicket I was fascinated to see a 1948 image entitled “Coate Water. the horizon of Richard Jefferies” (p142). Whilst it doesn’t say so this can only be Coate Water park in Swindon, close to the home of Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) a Swindon-born writer and a regular haunt of myself, Swindon born and bred, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I was also a pupil at the school named after the writer for four years. Tenuous and slight certainly but another small link with the photographer.
Researching and getting under the skin of a favourite photographer can be very rewarding in itself but can also lead to new ways of working and presenting your work. I will present a series of Brandt-inspired landscapes in a future post and it is fairly certain that without the research these images would never have come to fruition.