Assignment 4 meets my Grandmother

Recently I completed assignment 4 (Context & Narrative, Photography) which took me on the most exciting road of discovery. The photo I chose was Bill Brandt with his Kodak Wideangle Camera, a portrait taken by my grandmother, Laelia Goehr (1908-2002), in London in 1944. She had been a pupil of Bill Brandt and was greatly influenced by his work and through him, photographed for both Picture Post and Lilliput in the 1940s.

In November 2018 I participated in an OCA virtual study day looking at the exhibition, Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain shown at The Hepworth, Wakefield. I had known little about Miller or the Surrealism movement and the workshop was most fascinating. Little did I know at the time what great preparation it would be for my upcoming assignment.

From studying the photo, I was intrigued by who set it up, Brandt or my grandmother and what was the influence of Surrealism? Other portraits by my grandmother were very different in style and it was his direct gaze that seemed to indicate that he was overseeing the taking of this portrait. This was confirmed to me by Mark Haworth Booth, a former senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London who knew Brandt very well. He said in an email ‘it is only a self-portrait by BB (Brandt) in that he showed your grandmother how to set up the camera and positioned himself to be photographed’. This photograph was taken a couple years after Lee Miller’s famous photograph of David E. Scherman, dressed for war. In both photos the ‘eye’ motif is a dominating feature. In his essay ‘Bill Brandt’s Pictorialism’, Nigel Warburton says ‘ the eye, too, is a recurrent motif in Surrealist visual art’. The influence of Surrealism can be seen in both photos as well as in the series Perspectives on Nudes which Brandt took with this camera. It is documented that he was very influenced by Man Ray and Surrealism and knew Lee Miller in Paris when helping in Man Ray’s studio in 1930. It is possible that Miller may have even been the model for Brandt’s photo Semi-nude with Kimono (1930s) according to Paul Delany in biography, Bill Brandt, A Life.

There is very little written about my grandmother so I was dependent on family memories and it transpired that she also had been a good friend of Millers’ after Miller had moved back to London to live with Roland Penrose.

A visit to the Victoria and Albert, to look at an original print of the photo led me to an exciting discovery of a further six negatives of Bill Brandt taken by grandmother which she gave to the V&A in 1987.

Research for this assignment has led me to a personal discovery about my family. Little did I know that my first essay for my degree would be so exciting and revealing. Further details can be seen in the full essay on https://juliacrockattphoto.wordpress.com/assignment-4-a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words/

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6 Comments

  1. Jennifer 23 January 2019 at 8:50 pm

    If you can, next time you’re in London, visit 2 Willow Road in Hampstead (open to the public), built by the architect Erno Goldfinger for his family. He was friends with Roland Penrose and Lee Miller, and there’s work of their’s on the walls, and you have a real sense of that art community in the 1930s – 1950s.

    Reply
    1. Julia Crockatt 26 January 2019 at 9:37 am

      That is interesting because my Grandmother also lived in Hampstead. I will certainly visit it. Many thanks

      Reply
  2. Catherine Banks 24 January 2019 at 2:03 pm

    A really interesting blog post to read and I think that you have beautifully synthesised the personal connection with an objective analysis of the photograph. Would have liked to leave a comment on the blog itself but you don’t seem to have a comment field there.

    Reply
  3. Derek Trillo 24 January 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Hi Julia
    This is a fascinating interplay between research, family history and your own personal commentary. It would be worth posting a short piece on the BPH blog: this would be of interest to many readers & posters often get great leads/feedback for their research from the comments. http://britishphotohistory.ning.com/

    Reply
  4. Liz Cashdan 24 January 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Fascinating. Do you know Jaqueline Saphra’s poetry sequence called A Bargain with the Light (Hercules Editions 2017) where Saphra takes photographs of and by Lee Miller and writes a sequence of sonnets about Lee Miller’s life. The book also has an introduction by art historian Patricia Allmer.

    Reply
    1. Julia Crockatt 26 January 2019 at 9:42 am

      Thank you Liz – I will follow that one up too. As I said in my blog this is all a recent discovery started off by Assignment 4 so I am very excited to receive all this extra information. Best Wishes

      Reply

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