Homes fit for Heroes is a remarkable collection of wartime photographs of domestic life in Birmingham. Bill Brandt was commissioned by the Bournville Village Trust to record life in the cramped and often squalid Back to Backs in which so many people lived and also photograph life in newer, more modern homes. There are also a few images taken in Camden Hill in London.
In many ways these images make the ordinary striking. Brandt wrote that he found: “atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty,” and these images certainly reflect that. They were taken around the time of BVT was preapring When We Build Again, a book arguing for quality homes for families after the war and published in 1941 by Allen and Unwin. It was also the name of a remarkable documentary shot in Birmingham and released in 1943.
The book contains a detailed introduction by Peter James (head of photography at Birmingham Library) and Richard Sadler (who was head photography at Derby University at the time) which not only explains the history of the images but also the story of how they were lost and then re-found.
At the end is a postscript by Dr Mike Beazley of the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham on some work being carried out in 2004 to put these photos in the wider historical context. If you are a lover of the domestic history of Birmingham and great documentary photography treat yourself – buy this book!
Some of the images may also appear in Birmingham Back to Backs from National Trust Guidebooks.