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With These Abstract Portraits, Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Here's a pretty weird, but kind of cool and completely random set of photos: Close-up portraits of artists' eyes. They were taken in the 1960s by British photographer Bill Brandt.

Born in Germany in 1904, Brandt photographed — both independently and on assignment — a wide range of subjects in varying styles: World War II-era social documentary, street scenes in England, where he lived, editorial portraits, abstract female nudes, etc.

<em>Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal,</em> 1937
Bill Brandt / Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal, 1937
(right and left) <em>East Sussex Coast, </em>1959. (middle) <em>Baie des Anges, France, </em>1959
Bill Brandt / Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
(right and left) East Sussex Coast, 1959. (middle) Baie des Anges, France, 1959

The Museum of Modern Art has taken on the task of distilling Brandt's lifetime oeuvre into a comprehensive retrospective, which opened Wednesday. The exhibition's catalog describes him as "the artist who defined the potential of photographic modernism in England for much of the twentieth century."

In that catalog, in the chapter about portraiture, Brandt himself is quoted as having said: "The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of the face."

And on the following pages are head shots of people like E.M. Forster, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore — most of which were shot on assignment. It appears, however, that while on those assignments, Brandt was fashioning a little side project of his own. That is, the eyes.

For some reason these photos pop out from Brandt's sprawling, impressive portfolio. Maybe they were Brandt's meditation on human expression, and all that can be communicated by the eyes alone. Or maybe it's because these are the eyes of Alberto Giacometti and Jean Arp — people who, like Brandt, were famous for seeing the world differently.

And now that you've seen one of the weirder things in Brandt's archives, be sure to take a look at the rest of his stuff.

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Claire O'Neill