I looked up this old tape I had with a Bill Brandt interview. The sound had deteriorated some, but then he did not talk much. Bill Brandt, then already an old man, was not just a gentleman, but a gentle man. Soft-spoken, almost shy, he looked at his own photographs as if he had not seen them for a long time, reliving the moments of their taking, but without sentimentality. Looking at each picture for a long time he remembers the circumstances, the light mainly. Composition: that’s how it was, what it looked like – almost an excuse. “Decisive moment?” – there is a naughty boyish smile on his face – “sounds like Cartier-Bresson”, he says, “no, I don’t believe in that.” Several times he remarked that his nudes were his favorite photographs, but at the time nobody liked them. He was fascinated by playing with perspective, such as including the ceilings of rooms and the optical deformation of parts of the female body done with a special camera with a wide-angle lens. He tried color, but did not like it. When the portraits come by, he is surprised by the remark that almost every person is placed very excentrical: “O, really, I hadn’t noticed that” and starts checking. A very modest man indeed.
When I started taking photographs, ages ago, Henri Cartier-Bresson was the photographers’ pope so to speak. He had three dogmas for the believers, I had understood from reading the photo magazines and his own books (fortunately my French was not too bad):
first, there is a “decisive moment” for the photograph to be taken. Up to a point, there is certainly some truth in it, but some indecisive moments will do very well, I have meanwhile discovered. And it’s so irritating that every nitwit art critic with some general interest, preoccupied with knowledge but not even looking, comes up with this term to show he “knows about photography too”, even if there is no use for it.
second, you always used the whole negative, and sometimes even proudly showed you did so by including a subtle black border around the image on the paper print. There were even “styles” in the shaping of the outside of the border – some photographers used hand-torn carton frames to replace the narrow and sharp-edged metal frames that went with the enlarger. I even understood that Diane Arbus photographs (mostly posthumous prints) can be categorized and dated by their treatment of the image edge, soft without black border, narrow black border, uneven borders etc.
third, and here comes the f….word, you should never use flash, Cartier-Bresson said, since it was “intolerably aggressive”, destroying the atmosphere, making the presence of the intruding photographer very obvious, and in fact, changing the whole action. That’s what he said and I was not unhappy to have an excuse not to use it for I did not have a lot of experience with it.
Then came house parties. I had done little work with flash and felt insecure about it. I had an electronic flash unit that was basic, but clumsy. Its head turned when I brushed against somebody’s shoulder and people froze like wild animals caught in car lights because it was blinding. This had to change. I bought two identical dedicated Nikon speedlights, since I worked with two identical cameras as well. Using also identical settings was the ideal solution. I soon found out after experimenting on a few films what the best combination of depth of field/stepped down lighting was. I had given up the idea of using the room lights, as there were unworkable extremes and strobes and lots of darkness, which did not go well with the detail that I strived for; I wanted to fill the frame with relevant information till it almost burst. Flash made it all possible.That is how I overcame my initial fear of flashlight. I know I can use it for my kind of photography whenever I feel the need for it. Certainly in a house club with all its moving and pulsating lights no one will object either.