The Anglo-German photographer’s evocative 1955 portrait typifies the tension he created between person and place
Bill Brandt’s first book, The English at Home, published in 1936, exhibited a brilliant fascination not only with light and shade, but with the costumes of class divide – miners’ caps and public school boaters, maids’ pinnies and cricket whites. By the 1950s, however, his English interiors had tended to do away with clothing. His postwar series of nudes found ways of making flesh both sensual and abstract; his camera always seemed as interested in the rooms in which his models lived as in their bodily presence.
This picture, included in the current Tate Britain exhibition of Brandt’s work, is a celebrated example of that tension. The contours of the girl’s face lend her a sculptural quiet; the darkness of her single visible eye lies in contrast to the pair of windows staring out from the frame, one open, one shut. Light crashes in. Squint a little at the chest of drawers and the girl disappears into the setting entirely; focus on her and the rest becomes a place of her Alice in Wonderland imagining.