Bill Brandt’s parents were of Russian ancestry; he spent much of his youth in Germany and Switzerland. He worked in Paris for many years and studied with the American artist and photographer Man Ray. Brandt returned to London in 1931.

During the 1930s, Brandt documented the social structure of pre-war England. His pictures blended raw power and complex symbolism; they were simultaneously detached records and passionate involvements. Brandt said of these early works "I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. And I am still not sure what atmosphere is. I only know that it is a combination of elements which reveals the subject as familiar yet strange". Towards the end of the war, his style suddenly changed. "I have often been asked why this happened. I think I lost my enthusiasm for reportage. Documentary photography had become fashionable. Everybody was doing it. Besides, my main theme had disappeared; England was no longer a country of marked social contrast. Whatever the reason, the poetic trend of photography, which had already excited me in my early Paris days, began to fascinate me again. It seemed to me that there were wide fields still unexplored. I began to photograph nudes, portraits and landscapes". Bill Brandt was one of the few photographs who could pose subjects, use artificial light, manipulate the image in the dark room and retouch the final print to produce a powerful and lasting image. He stated that "I am not interested in rules and conventions. Photography is not a sport. If I think a picture will look better brilliantly lit, I use lights, or even flash. It is the results that count, no matter how it was achieved. I find the dark room work most important, as I can finish the composition of a picture only under an enlarger. I do not understand why this is supposed to interfere with the truth. Photographers should follow their own judgements and not the fads and dictates of others."