Brassai

French-Hungarian (1899-1984)


Hungarian photographer Brassai was born Gyula Halasz, but took his pseudonym (after his hometown, Brasso) upon moving to Paris in 1924 and beginning to publish his photographs. He’d moved to the city as a journalist, but soon found himself being tutored by Andre Kertesz in photography, an art form toward which he’d once had an aversion. During the day, Brassai taught himself the French language by reading the epic works of Marcel Proust. In the evenings, he captured images of both sides of Parisian life: the seedier scene of pimps and prostitutes and the salon world of artist and intellectuals. He gathered these images into his first and arguably most famous collection, Paris At Night, which earned him the title “the eye of Paris.” These distinctive shots showcase Brassai’s use of light; the crisp, high contrast images of illumination and shadow are reminiscent of the film noir genre.  

Brassai was a founder of the Rapho Agency in Paris in 1933 and spent most of his professional career taking pictures under their banner, but was prolific in several other areas as well. He authored and published many books, as well as making several films, one of which won an award as the most original film at the 1974 Cannes Festival. Like Cartier-Bresson, he cut his photographic career short in 1961, returning to sculpting in stone and bronze, for which he’d received formal training in his youth.