Konrad Brandel was a Polish photographer, inventor, and camera maker. He is considered one of the most interesting Polish photographers of the 19th century. He was born in Warsaw in 1838 and died in Toruń on 28th October 1920. He’s buried in Powązki cemetery in Warsaw.
Photographer, inventor, and camera maker.
After graduating from the Real Gymnasium, Konrad Brandel started learning photography in the atelier of the famous Warsaw photographer Karol Beyer. In 1865 he opened his own studio at 57 Nowy Świat Street together with Władysław Brandel and Marcin Olszyński. The name of the studio was K. Brandel i S-ka, which meant that it was Konrad Brandel who had the final say. The studio mainly took portraits, but also reproduced artworks. At the same time Olszyński became the art director of the popular illustrated weekly magazine Kłosy. A year later Brandel’s name appeared in the magazine in an article about a technical revolution in illustration printing:
We are going to show readers treasures of art (…) wanting to give value to copies, we used a modern invention, never used in any illustrated magazine until now: photographic copying directly onto wood (…) this invention, which belongs to the photo studio of K. Brandel i sp. in Warsaw, gives us the possibility to add artistic value to reproductions.
It was the first attempt to reproduce photographs on a printing scale, and this new method by Brandel was thirteen years ahead of the invention of photogravure by the Czech photographer and printer Karel Klič, considered the father of today’s photo printing. The role of Konrad Brandel in the history of Polish photography isn't limited to using photos on an industrial scale. Since he was very young, he had been promoting photography in Poznań magazines, not only as a technique, but also as one of the branches of art. Brandel was recognized and awarded for photo albums showing surgical techniques and skin diseases – which means he also had an impact on the development of medicine.
He became a part of the history of Poland, and Warsaw especially, as a photographer tirelessly recording Warsaw landscapes. He had a strong presence in the world of Warsaw photography from 1866, when he started publishing a wall calendar consisting of artistic photomontages of the most important events of the past year, reproduced by the newest method of collotype. Brandel was one of the first Varsavianists among photographers.
Always in his cape, always ready to take a photo, he learned new skills quickly and gathered a collection of very interesting pictures.
– recalled Ludwik Anders.
Among these “interesting pictures” we can find studies of architecture and urban landscapes as well as generic scenes which are now a priceless testimony of everyday life in Warsaw in the last decades of the 19th century. Even today they enchant viewers with their accurate observation and composition as well as a journalistic character uncommon in 19th-century photography, which remained mostly static because of the technical limitations of the time. Their character reveals a departure from taking pictures with a stable, immobile camera.
It was possible thanks to the new type of camera used by Konrad Brandel. He created it around 1883, and its design was possible because of two inventions: bromide emulsion, which allowed for a simpler photographic process and the construction of a shutter, which deputized for the human hand in covering and uncovering the camera lens. It was an avant-garde construction, the first portable camera in the world – an ancestor of modern tools used for recording images. What’s most important is that it was invented, designed, and manufactured by Brandel exclusively.
As the first photographer in the world, Brandel changed the format of the negative to the popular size (sometimes used even today) of 6x9 centimetres. This light camera was provided with a cassette with two glass tiles – it was the first step on the path to creating a negative containing more than one image. The camera was adapted to taking pictures on the so-called "dry tile” (created by Brandel himself), which eliminated the arduous preparation, a design which was ahead of its time. It had a very quick shutter, exposing the negative in one fiftieth of a second, which allowed for Brandel to not only become independent from the studio, but also to take pictures of real life, not just posed scenes. The invention was patented in 1889.
Soon the photo-revolver (as he named it) was improved so that it could hold twenty-five glass negatives. With this camera he recorded Warsaw's scenes and landscapes, and he was also the chronicler of the meeting of three emperors in Skierniewice in 1884. There, he received an order of merit from Frank Joseph. Brandel made copies of his invention and his cameras started being used outside of Poland. Brandel became very famous, even amongst the royalty. In his diaries, Julian Fałat wrote about a meeting with Tsar Alexander II. When, during a hunt in 1899, the emperor Wilhelm II presented him to the Russian emperor, the tsar saw Brandel’s photo-revolver hanging from his neck and asked: "N'est ce pas, c'est appareil de Bradel de Varsovie?" ("Isn’t it Brandel’s Warsaw camera?"). "Oui, Votre Majeste" ("Yes, Your Majesty") responded Fałat. Brandel’s camera was used by other painters such as Wojciech Gerson, Aleksander Gierymski, and Henryk Siemiradzki.
Brandel’s role in the history of photography isn’t limited to technical development. He’s also considered a pioneer of photo reportage – his pictures were published in illustrated magazines, making him the first photoreporter. Brandel is also the author of a breaktrough in looking at photography as an autonomous work, created by a specific artist. Until then photography reproduction meant copying it through etching or lithography, and the images made this way were signed only with a note “from photography”, usually without the author’s name. Brandel’s works, published in “Kłosy”, and then as the so-called “trawionki”, first photographs using a half-tone raster, were always signed by the author.
He was recognized in 1905 as a honorary member of the Warsaw Photographers’ Society, but by then he didn't live in Warsaw. In 1900, he'd resigned from professional life and moved to Toruń. He died on 28th October 1920, and was buried in Powązki cemetery in Warsaw.
Original photographs by Konrad Brandel are owned, among other places, by the Warsaw Museum and Warsaw Public Library. They are now reproduced as a document of Warsaw development in the second half of the 19th century.
- Krystyna Lejko, Warszawa w obiektywie Konrada Brandla / Warsaw through Konrad Brandel's lens, Warszawa 1985;
- Ignacy Płażewski, Dzieje polskiej fotografii / History of Polish photography, Warszawa 2003.
author: Tomasz Mościcki, February 2011, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda, November 2015.