May 22, 2010

Brassaï (Gyula Halász) 1899-1984, French

Brassai is regarded as the photographer whose pictures form the basis upon which many non-Parisians' ideas about Paris are formed.

This certainly applies to me. I have no desire to travel anymore, and I regret that Paris is the one city I would have liked to visit. Yes it has always been a mecca for painters and photographers, and it is that Paris, the postcard Paris, that I am familiar with.

Brassai's best known work consists of night scenes of "the City of Lights" in the 1930s, including photographs of the architecture; people in cafes and bars; workers who kept the city going after dark; clochoards who lived under the bridges; and performers, artists, and writers of the period.

Born Gyula Halász in the (now Rumanian) town of Brasso (whence his adopted name) at the turn of the century, Brassai's original ambition was to paint . He studied art in Hungary and Germany as a youth, finally coming to Paris in 1924 as a journalist. As a small child he had accompanied his father to that city and stayed for a year. The city left a lasting impression which became a powerful interest upon his return. Brassai became fascinated with the nightlife he saw around him, both on the streets and in public gathering places. He claimed that the images he saw haunted him; recording them became something of an obsession. Although he was a skilful painter, he found the medium too time consuming and lacking immediacy.

During this time he befriended a fellow expatriate, André Kertesz, who finally convinced Brassai to try his hand at photography. For the first six years of his life in Paris Brassai had avoided photography, considering the medium to be too mechanical and impersonal. His opinion changed quickly when he saw the results of his first efforts to record Paris after dark. He immersed himself in his new-found pastime and in 1933 produced a book of night pictures entitled Paris de Nuit, which met with critical acclaim.

Brassai's wanderings around the cafes and bars of Paris brought him into contact with many of the artists and writers living in the city during that period. He established lifelong ties with Picasso, Giacometti, Sartre, Henry Miller, and many others.

Many of Brassai's pictures of the city of Paris were used in magazines; others remained unseen and unpublished until later in his career. These pictures depict in a non-judgmental and keenly observed fashion the prostitutes, opium addicts, lovers (both homosexual and heterosexual), street hoodlums, performers, and night time revellers of pre-war Paris.

Brassai's reputation as a photographer had reached the United States by the mid-thirties, and some of his work was included in an exhibition entitled Photography: 1839-1937 at the Museum of Modern Art. Brassai continued to document Parisian life and make environmental portraits of his fellow artists until the outbreak of World War II. Unrestricted photography in occupied France being all but impossible, Brassai turned to his earlier discipline of drawing. At the end of the war a selection of these drawings was published. Brassai then returned to his camera and at the same time began work on a novel, Histoire de Marie, which was published with an introduction by Henry Miller in 1948. Three years later a collection of Brassai's photographs was published under the title Camera in Paris.
In the 1950s Brassai turned his camera on the graffiti he found in his wanderings through the city streets; he also travelled and photographed in various parts of France and Spain. He continued to work in other media, making drawings, paintings, and sculpture. His friendship with Picasso resulted in a highly acclaimed book on the artist and his contemporaries, Conversations avec Picasso, published in 1964.

Info Brassai (Gyula-Halász) 1899-1984 Start technique heliogravure

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