NEW YORK — Subtitles don’t come any more direct, or accurate, than “Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light.” This ample and enthralling retrospective — it includes more than 150 photographs, as well as some 60 snapshots taken by or of Brandt early in his career, and several display cases of vintage magazine spreads — runs at the Museum of Modern Art through Aug. 12.
Yes, “shadow and light” describes the work of all black-and-white photographers — past, present, and Instagram — but perhaps none more so than Brandt (1904-1983). The interplay of darkness and illumination is his visual touchstone. Understood as metaphor, it no less characterizes Brandt’s work. It’s there in the relationship between upper and lower classes in his remarkable images of Britain in the ’30s. It’s there, too — and most important of all — in the steadily evolving balance between form and content over the course of his career.