A while ago, I went to see the Bill Brandt (1904-1983) exhibition at the V&A. He is a photographer well known for his documentation of British cultural and social life and his more surrealist work that was influenced by Man Ray who he assisted whilst living in Paris.
Naturally there were dozens of beautiful images there, but the one that struck me the most was this one ‘Bayswater Houses lit by Moonlight’. During the war Brandt was commissioned to produce a major photographic inventory of the capital’s important buildings. The work was carried out during the black-out, without flash. I can’t remember how long the photograph was exposed for, but it was ages, hours maybe.
I love this comment by Elizabeth Bowen, one of Brandt’s favourite writers, ‘Full moon drenched the city and searched it; there was not a niche left to stand in. The effect was remorseless: London looked like the moon’s capital – shallow, cratered, extinct…And the moon did more: it exonerated and beautified’. Why don’t we speak like that any more?
When I lived in London I used to cycle to and from work, once there was a powercut all the way down Old Street and the Clerkenwell Road and it was very peaceful cycling in the darkness without any manmade light. I think that is what I find so attractive about this photograph, the stillness. In the words of the photographer himself ‘In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since’