Brassaï and Paris romance – #100GameChangers

Brassaï was a Hungarian photographer, naturalized French. Famous for his nocturnal views of the city and the surrealist vein of his photography. He was also interested in high society, intellectuals, theatre and opera. He also tried his hand at writing, sculpture and film, all of which were great passions of his. This shows us a great passion for art not only related to photography.

He was born in Brașov, which is now a city in Romania but at the time belonged to the Hungarian territory. When he was only three years old, he moved to Paris. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest before enlisting in the cavalry of the Austro-Hungarian army for the duration of the First World War. In 1920, he went to live in Berlin, working as a journalist and resuming his studies at the Academy. His work as a journalist allowed him to travel all over Europe, but it was in Paris that Brassaï developed his artistic talent and began his profession as a photographer. The most significant period of his career was between the two world wars.

It was not until 1924 that he decided to move to Paris permanently, and so he began to frequent Montparnasse, getting closer to the Futurist movement and its exponents. He was very successful and was called ‘the eye of Paris’ by Henry Miller. During the Nazi occupation, he was not allowed to take pictures, so he decided to move to the south of the French Riviera.
In 1948, he married Gilberte Boyer and finally took French citizenship. He died on 8 July 1984 in Èze, in the Alpes-Maritimes, and was buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

If everything can become banal, everything can become wonderful again. In Paris, I was looking for the poetry of the fog that transforms things, the poetry of the night that transforms the city, the poetry of time that transforms people


As can be seen from his shots, he loved the gothic and ghostly style that Paris took on at night. And it was in this atmosphere, with sinister shadows, silhouettes, architecture and people plunged into darkness that Brassaï shot, portraying Surrealism. A personal surrealism, imprinting a subjective vision of the city.
To produce this distinctive style which belongs to him only, he uses haze which renders everything more rarefied, as in a dream one step away from a nightmare. He pays great attention to the lighting and the subjects. His photos are very up-to-date in terms of the themes that are imprinted as distant, representing a city which is no longer the same.

Starting in 1930, Brassaï travelled around Paris, day and night, with his Voigtländer Berg heil camera, 6 x 9 cm, with an f/45 lens. Alone, or in the company of his friends from Montparnasse, he spent all night observing the places and people that populated the city’s darkness. In 1933, he published a book entitled Paris de nuit in which he portrayed the city he loved so much.

Paris de Nuit was a critical and editorial success and launched the trend of night photography that influenced important photobooks from Bill Brandt’s Night in London (1938) onwards and was a decisive turning point in Brassaï’s professional life. The 1933 edition excluded the most explicit images of the transgressive Paris, with its brothels, prostitutes, opium dens and gay and lesbian hangouts, which Brassaï had managed to photograph, gaining the trust and complicity of the people of the night. It was not until 1976 that the publisher Gallimard published the complete version of Brassaï. Le Paris secret des années 30, with one hundred and thirty photographs and the author’s impassioned commentary, but without managing to reproduce the graphic and typographical charm of the original edition.

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