09 September 2014

Brassaï at Night

"Morris column in the fog, Avenue de l''Observatoire" Brassaï (1934)

Today is the birthday of Gyula Halasz, better known as the photographer Brassaï. Born on September 9, 1899 in Brasso, Romania (then part of Hungary), he spent a year in Paris as a child when his father, a professor of French literature, taught at the Sorbonne. Moving back to the city that would become his permanent home in 1924, he worked as a journalist, spending his spare time painting and drawing. His first foray into photography came when he began working for Minotaure, an art magazine, and was asked to photograph artist studios. He was disinterested in the medium at first but had his mind changed by a fellow Hungarian, photographer André Kertész.

Now going by the name Brassaï (taken from his hometown), he became a popular photographer, often hired by major magazines. Yet regardless of his assignments, his fascination was with his adopted city at night. Walking the streets alone, Brassaï managed to capture the after-hour life of the City of Lights like no one else. In his images we see an empty bridge, a car's headlight cutting a beam across the street, an iconic Morris column covered with notices. And we witness the creatures of the night: the gamblers and prostitutes, late night revellers and lovers. As Brassaï once wrote, “Night in a large city brings out of its den an entire population that lives its entire life completely under the cover of darkness.”

"Pair of lovers, Place d'Italie" Brassaï (1930)

In 1933 he published many of these images in Paris de Nuit, a book that is still in print today. Flipping through its pages or another of his books, The Secret Paris of the 30’s, one is immediately swept back into the past, his photographs so real that you can almost smell the dirty streets. So on this occasion of the anniversary of his birth, let’s remember Brassaï by taking a look at a few more of his images of Paris at night.

"Prostitutes at a bar, Boulevard Rochechouart, Montmartre" Brassaï (1932). One of my favourites. 
And I love how he photographed the same woman more than once (see below).

"A prostitute playing Russian billiards, Boulevard Rochechouart" Brassaï (1932)

"Lovers in a Small Cafe, Near the Place d'Italie" Brassaï (1932)

"Le Pont Neuf" Brassaï  (1932)

To see more of Brassaï's photos, I recommend getting a copy of The Secret Paris of the 30's. It's been a favourite since college and is still in print

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