Brassai, “The man from Brasso”, the Hungary university town where he was raised, was born Gyula Halasz. He studied art in Budapest and then in Berlin. Son of a university professor who taught French, he had come to Paris first as a small boy, and stayed for a year with his father. The attitude of simple wonder never left him, and regardless of subject matter his astonished eye is one of the constant elements in his work. He returned to Paris in 1923, ‘mild, with protuberant eyes and wearing the costume of the ordinary,’ and was drawn to the neighborhood of Montparnasse in particular. He prowled the streets, commenting “My camera sees all different kinds of people and with impartiality fixes them on the negative. Whatever I see and feel about people the camera sees”. In this way he managed to capture something profound about the many personalities that he encountered. He talked of “a time, a place, a moment when a certain picture is possible and how if one fails then, one can no longer return to recapture it”.


In the early 1930s Brassai set about photographing Paris by night, especially its more colourful and disreputable underbelly. The results of this project, a fascinatingly eclectic collection of tawdry prostitutes, pimps, madams, transvestites and glistening lamp lit vistas, was published in 1933 as Paris de Nuit, one of the most remarkable photographic books of all time. 


Brassaï’s photographs brought him international fame. In 1948, he had a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, which travelled to the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois. His work is in the collections of SFMoMA, San Fransisco, LACMA, Los Angeles, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Pompidou Centre, Paris among others.



© Brassaï, Pantalon “Tentation” Diana Slip, 4, 1933

© Brassaï, Pantalon “Tentation” Diana Slip, 6, 1933

© Brassaï, Pantalon “Tentation” Diana Slip, 7, 1933


November 11, 2015
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