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The ghost of Bill Brandt

25 February, 2010

I had dinner Monday with Graham Howe, artist, Director of the traveling exhibition company Curatorial Assistance and manager of the E.O. Hoppe Estate. He described having tea with Bill Brandt behind the scenes at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in 1973. Graham asked Bill how he got the idea for his famous ‘Perspectives on Nudes’ photographs. Bill told him it was because he stayed in a house in London that was haunted, and a spirit told him to make the pictures. When Bill asked what to make, the vision ‘nudes’ came rushing to his head. When he asked how, ‘wide angle, close up, high contrast’ flashed through his mind. So that’s what he did. Graham is convinced Bill was sincere.

It’s an interesting chapter in a long history of photographers being inspired by the extra-dimensional. Later in life, the English photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn became a Druid, dressing in pagan costume and worshipping at ancient stone circles. The early Scottish photographer and scientist Charles Piazzi Smyth, once highly regarded as a pioneering intellect in the 1850s, was marginalized after he became obsessed with Egyptology, and began to publish books about the secret mathematical codes he believed were embedded in the dimensions of the pyramids.

Graham also told the story of interviewing Yuri Geller for a magazine in the 1970s. At the time, Geller claimed he could photograph space ships using a camera with the lens cap still on and shooting out an airplane window – the energy of the space ships registered itself on film. Not quite so convincing, Graham says.

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