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Monday, 1 November 2010

"The Eye of Paris": Brassaï (Gyula Halász) 1899-1984

By Alexandra A. Jopp. 

This post is meant only as a resource for further internet information about Brassaï.

"There are many photographs which are full of life but which are confusing and difficult to remember. It is the force of an image which matters." Brassaï.

The photographer of 'High Society.' Brassai (1899-1984), in addition to his photographic metier was a journalist, sculptor, and author of literary works.

From the moment of his arrival in Paris in 1924, Brassaï (who took his name from Brasov, his Transylvanian birthplace) was stunned by the city "under cover of darkness." "When you meet the man you see at once that he is equipped with no ordinary eyes," comments writer Henry Miller on French photographer Brassai. And the sharpness of vision and depth of insight noted by Miller are revealed in Brassai’s lifelong admiration and photographic exploration of the City of Lights—its people, places, and things.
Jules Halasz was born in Brasov, Hungary. He studied painting and sculpture in the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. During 1920- 1922, he was studying painting in Berlin while making living as a free-lance journalist. He "manufactured interviews with world luminaries" and wrote articles for Hungarian newsletters.
In February 1924, Brassaï arrived to Paris where he immediately felt very much at home "I come and go in the city like an old Parisian." Shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1924 he began teaching himself French by reading Proust, a text to which he returned many times before writing, in his later years, the present collection of essays, which followed a reimmersion in La rercherche after an illness in 1968.


Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Prostitute at angle of
Rue de la Reynie and Rue Quincampoix
From "Paris by Night" 1932


This image is from a 1932 series taken around Les Halles when Brassai recorded those he called "Venuses of the Crossroads," prostitutes standing at their posts - a section of the sidewalk, a corner - which they had struggled so hard to get. With an aura of mystery, Brassai captured one of these ladies of the evenings she stands at the puddled street corner, smiling into the shadows during her centuries-long wait.


Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Streetwalker, Rue Quincampoix, c. 1931

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Under one of the Seine bridges
From "Paris by Night"
1933

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Pavement Reflection, Place de la Concorde, 1930's

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Couple Dans Un Bistrot, Rue Saint Denis, c. 1932

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
'Lovers in a small cafe, near the Place d'Italie'

Unlike many of his contemporaries (such as Lartigue and Doisneau) who were portraying the fashionable and romantic sides of Paris, Brassaï was enraptured by the seedy underworld that could only be seen after hours. It was in the bistros, cafes and bars that Brassaï discovered his most fascinating subjects. And it was in their backrooms and back alleys where Brassaï captures prostitutes, nightclub entertainers, transvestites and their patrons in all stages of revelry.


Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Couple d'amoureux sous un réverbère, 1932.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Lovers in a Bistro, 1932.

Edgar Degas.
The Absinthe Drinker, Impressionism, 1875-76.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
Brassaï (Gyula Halász).
Secret Paris of the 30s.


Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Couple Allonge dans une "Maison d'Illusion", c. 1932


Brassaï (Gyula Halász).
 À la Boule Blanche (At the Boule Blanche),
 c. 1936

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
A la table d'un cafe, 1931-32.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Au Bal Musette, Les ‘Quatre Saisons’ Rue de Lappe, 1932

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
At «Suzy's», rue Gregoire-Tours. 1932.
                                          
photograph of the staff of a Latin Quarter bordello called "Suzy". "Suzy," says Brassai, "was one of the discreet houses that guaranteed the anonymity of its guests. Even priests got in and out without being recognized."  
                                               
Brassaï (Gyula Halász).
Dans une boite de nuit (In a Nightclub)
1935.

Brassai shared the passion for nightwalking with the Surrealists, calling himself a "noc tambulist."


Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Bijou at the Bar de la Lune, Montmartre.
Also known as Leahanne in about a year.
1932.

With his camera, Brassai captured images that were traditional in Parisian life, but he explored those images in new ways. The nightlife in Paris was a particular focus for Brassai. Madame Bijou is a photograph of an old woman who once led a rich life but now lives on charity. She read palms and told stories to receive food and money from gullible men. When Brassai took her picture and later wrote about her in his book, she felt very insulted and humiliated. Here, Miss Diamonds is depicted as an elderly woman, wearing ragged clothing, and laced with fake jewels. Her neck is heavily decorated with necklaces, chains, and chokers and her plump fingers display over a dozen rings, and are intertwined in fake pearls. She wore a ragged black cape that was torn and shiny in spots, which created a very unique look. (Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina.)


Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Ballet school, Paris. 1953.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Ballet Rose, 1932.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Backstage at the Folies Bergère, 1932.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Place de la Concorde from Automobile Club
From "Paris by Night"
1933

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Boulevards at the Place de l'Opera
From "Paris by Night"
1933

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Foggy Paris.

Paris distills its gaiety according to a subtle and sometimes elusive formula. It is compounded of appeals to all five senses - a profusion of all that greets the eye on quays, in streets, in theaters; of all that meets the palate in restaurants and cafes; of the seductive essences sold at parfumeries and wafted wide at the flower market; of the trumpetings of the Garde Republicaine, the crescendos that swell from the Opera's pit, and the wails of boat whistles on the Seine; and of all the tactile surfaces - the textures of brick and limestone, rough table-cloths, or jacquard linens, dry leaves or wet grass - that everywhere invite the hand as much as any marble in the Louvre. 
And a kind of sixth sense comes into play. The Paris-sense, part history, part moment, need not be inborn; it is acquired easily enough by visitors, for whom this is usually a city as full of promise as a wedding night. 
Brassai caught the pulse and impulse of the happiest Paris as only a master of motion could have done it. Assembled here, in support of his lilting rhythms, is a sequence of other views on the same subject. 


Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Arc de Triomphe
From "Paris by Night"
1933

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Tugboats and barges beside Pont-Neuf
From "Paris by Night"
1933

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Palais-Royale train station
From "Paris by Night"
1933

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
Open Gutter
From "Paris by Night"
1933


In 2000, an exhibition of some 450 works by Brassaï was organized with the help of his widow, Gilberte at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.



Resources: 

Brassai, Letters to My Parents, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Brassai, Conversations with Picasso, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Brassai. The Secret Paris of the Thirties. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976.

Morand, Paul. Brassai : Paris By Night. Bulfinch, First Edition edition. 2001.

Tucker, Anne Wilkes, with Richard Howard and Avis Berman. Brassai: The Eye of Paris. Houston, TX: Houston Museum of Fine Arts, 1997.


Christie's Past Sale Archive


Online Collection: Museums and Public Art Galleries Worldwide




Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina


Art Institute of Chicago


Bibliotheque Nationale de France (in French)


Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City


Brassai in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Database


Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio


Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma


Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts


Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana


Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey


Reina Sofía National Museum, Madrid (in Spanish)


Réunion des Musées Nationaux, France (in French)


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Masters of Photography




BRASSAI QUOTES:


The precise instant of creation is when you choose the subject. (meaning that the essential thing occurs at the moment when he, the photographer, meets the reality he wishes to capture. - Brassai


Photography in our time leaves us with a grave responsibility. While we are playing in our studios with broken flowerpots, oranges, nude studies and still lifes, one day we know that we will be brought to account: life is passing before our eyes without our ever having seen a thing. - Brassai


Do you know what Picasso said when he looked at my drawings in 1939? “You’re crazy, Brassai. You have a gold mine and you spend your time exploiting a salt mine!” The salt mine was – naturally – photography! - Brassai , Dialogue With Photography by Paul Hill (39.)



I like living beings; I like life, but I like to capture it in such a way that the photo does not move. I don't really like the snapshot, the Leica with its 39 views, all of which distract attention. - Brassai


Chance is always there. We all use it. The difference is a poor photographer meets chance one out of a hundred times and a good photographer meets chance all the time. - Brassai


In the absence of a subject with which you are passionately involved, and without the excitement that drives you to grasp it and exhaust it, you may take some beautiful pictures, but not a photographic oeuvre. - Brassai


There are many photographs which are full of life but which are confusing and difficult to remember. It is the force of an image which matter. - Brassai - Amateur Photographer, June 18, 1969.


..the thing that is magnificent about photography is that it can produce images that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone. - Brassai

We should try, without creasing to tear ourselves constantly by leaving our subjects and even photography itself from time to time, in order that we may come back to them with reawakened zest, with the virginal eye. That is the most precious thing we can possess. - Brassai

The purpose of art is to raise people to a higher level of awareness than they would otherwise attain on their own. - Brassai


After twenty years you can begin to be sure of what camera will do. - Brassai - Creative Camera May 1972, p. 148.


To keep from going stale you must forget your professional outlook and rediscover the virginal eye of the amateur. - Brassai

  

2 comments:

  1. very good article, kudos on it.
    however, you may want to check and correct that Brasov was an is in România. Hence, Brassai is an hungarian master of romanian origin ( hungarian father & armean mother)

    ReplyDelete
  2. “All I wanted to express was reality, for noting is more surreal” (George Brassaï)
    http://thomasthorstensson.photography/brassai-paris-night/

    ReplyDelete