Exhibition Considers Photographs as Historical Documents and What They Tell about British Society

Private and Public: Class, Personality, Politics, and Landscape in British Photography

January 3 – April 6, 2008

Stanford, California — Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents “Private and Public: Class, Personality, Politics, and Landscape in British Photography” from January 3 to April 6, 2008. This exhibition, from the Cantor Arts Center's collection, explores the special qualities of the British as revealed in photographs: their obsession with class, individuality, the city, and the countryside. The exhibition, on view in the Lynn Krywick Gibbons Gallery, includes works by Julia Margaret Cameron, Peter Henry Emerson, Francis Frith, and Bill Brandt.

“Photographs frequently combine the social with the aesthetic, and British photographs may do so more than most,” said Peter Stansky, Professor of History at Stanford University. “This is dramatically true in the case of Bill Brandt, perhaps the greatest British photographer of the 20th century. Thanks to the 1998 gift of Jan Leonard and Jerrold Piel, Stanford acquired a notable number of important Brandt photographs. They demonstrate that great works of art are of interest not only in themselves but also as documents of their time.”

Born in Germany, of Anglo-German heritage, Brandt (1904–1983) made his career in Britain. During the 1930s, he devoted himself largely to photographs of social observation: how the working, middle, and upper classes lived. During the Second World War, he created vivid images, frequently of dramatic stillness, of London. He also made portraits of English writers and artists. Later in his career, he concentrated on photographs of nudes that border on abstraction.

For the past several years Stansky has held a colloquium in which students considered the use of various art forms as historical documents and what they tell about a society. Over the years, the class has read novels and poetry, watched movies, listened to music, considered buildings, and examined works of art. A recent colloquium considered British society, and the Stanford undergraduate students did research and wrote about the photographs in this exhibition. The result of the students’ related work will be available as supplemental information in the gallery.

The exhibition is made possible by the Lynn Krywick Gibbons Exhibitions Fund

VISITOR INFORMATION: Cantor Arts Center is open Wednesday – Sunday, 11 am – 5 pm, Thursday until 8 pm. Admission is free. The Center is located on the Stanford campus, off Palm Drive at Museum Way. Parking is free after 4 p.m. and all day on weekends. Information: 650-723-4177, museum.stanford.edu.

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Note to Editors: Selected high-resolution images for publicity use only may be downloaded from Cantor Arts Center's FTP site. Call 650-725-4657 or email akoster@stanford.edu to access the images.