Research Notes – Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt series of photographs taken with car headlights, as published in 1945 in a Picture Post article entitled “The Magic Lantern of a Car’s Headlights” (1), come quite close to the brash, direct light aesthetics of press photography flash; with a light that is both intense but narrow in its scope and reach. In this short series, Brandt shows us not only what we would normally expect to see and note while driving (e.g. road signspedestrians crossing), but also both the unexpected (such as the couple cuddling by the curb) or the ignored (the road itselfa churchyard normally invisible at night). The headlight is indiscriminate on what it targets but also illuminating on what it shows, and the photographer takes great care in recording it all with reasonable care for composition. Brandt could not control the intensity or direction of the headlights, and some of the subjects (like the pedestrian crossing) are only partially illuminated; but this is beside the point, as the pictures try to illustrate a point of view (that of the driver or his front passenger) rather than to make justice to the “subjects”. In my opinion, these pictures are more about the light, and that is perhaps the main subject.

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(1) The Magic Lantern Of A Car’s Headlights (1945) Picture Post (March)

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