A Snicket by Bill Brandt

Whenever I think of texture my thoughts often return to an enduring photographic favourite, not just of mine but of many other people too. Bill Brandt’s, A Snicket (1937) creates an incredible atmosphere all it’s own by the use of light. Specifically light on cobble stones. This oft reproduced and imitated photograph owes it’s existence to Brandt’s unerring eye for light and it’s use in photography. His search for light and shade (along with many of his photographic brethren) is legendary, indeed he produced a book called Shadow of Light and has had exhibitions named along similar lines.

A Snicket, Halifax, 1937 – Bill Brandt

In the book ‘Singular Images. Essays on Remarkable Photographs’ (Edited by Sophie Howarth, 2005), the photograph published is taken from a print made thirty years after the image was originally made by Brandt. It shows a very dark image. The only highlights bounce from the cobblestones in between the dark cracks. The mill, walls and handrails are all very much in the shadows, all to accentuate the rich texture of the cobbles. Brandt was not a man to stand on fashions of the time and regularly gave a lot of attention to his darkroom processing. Unlike some of his contemporaries (Henri Cartier-Bresson among them), he didn’t feel the need to be constrained by getting it ‘in camera’ and was quite content to crop, burn and dodge to obtain his desired effect. There is some suspicion that the wisp of smoke apparently emanating form the mill in this version could have been added form another negative. Of course it could just be the action of him significantly darkening the print, more so than in other versions. For me this is my favourite version as it leaves the viewer no option but to be drawn to the dramatic, damp climb up the cobbles. It looks somewhat forbidding. As part of a series of photographs about industry published in Lilliput the subtext for A Snicket included the phrase “In the days of iron-shod clogs, you took one step forward and slid two steps back”. Brandt would never admit to there being an overt political message to his work, but for me this is a great description of what is in front of the viewer.

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