In the Spotlight: Bill Brandt’s Oakworth Moor, Yorkshire

By Katherine Stauble, Sobey Curatorial Assistant, Photographs, NGC on March 26, 2013

Bill Brandt, Oakworth Moor, Yorkshire (c. 1944), gelatin silver print, 33.1 x 28.3 cm, NGC. Gift of Dorothy Meigs Eidlitz, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, 1968. Photo: Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

“I have to become obsessed with a particular scene. I have to feel as if I’ve been to this place long ago, and am trying to recapture how it used to look.” (Bill Brandt, 1947)

Bill Brandt was a master of the nighttime scene, able to render cityscapes and wilderness scenes in the darkest of tones, and constructing moods that shifted from eerie to romantic. Brandt’s Oakworth Moor, Yorkshire exemplifies his imaginative use of shadow in landscape. The carefully controlled lighting, heavy silhouettes and minimalist composition enshroud the scene in both mystery and serenity.

Widely considered to be Britain’s foremost photographer of the twentieth century, Bill Brandt was born in 1904 in Hamburg, Germany. He took up portrait photography in Vienna in 1928, and associated with Man Ray and Brassaï in Paris. In 1934, Brandt moved to London, soon adopting Britain as his home and source of inspiration. His early social-documentary photographs explore the sharp contrast between the rich and the poor, and his nocturnal street scenes recall those of Brassaï. Brandt’s photographs made in the industrial north of England in 1936–1937 reveal the harsh conditions of the working class.  

In the 1940s, Brandt embarked on a series of landscape photographs that explored the settings for great British literary works by the Brontë sisters, Thomas Hardy, James Boswell and others. Oakworth Moor, seen in this image, is within walking distance of the Brontë home in Haworth.

Bill Brandt influenced many distinguished artists, including Robert Frank, Roger Mayne and Don McCullin. His images of unemployed coal workers inspired McCullin to make his own photographic journey north in 1963. This richly toned image suggests the way in which Brandt’s work also influenced McCullin’s brooding landscapes.

Oakworth Moor, Yorkshire is one of the first photographs acquired by the National Gallery. It was part of an important donation of 366 photographs made by Dorothy Meigs Eidlitz between 1968 and 1970.


By Katherine Stauble, Sobey Curatorial Assistant, Photographs, NGC| March 26, 2013
Categories:  Features

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Katherine Stauble, Sobey Curatorial Assistant, Photographs, NGC

Katherine Stauble, Sobey Curatorial Assistant, Photographs, NGC

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