Brassaï: The Eye of Paris
Depicting the eclectic nightlife of Paris emphasizing each element’s and each character’s unique vulnerability, the Hungarian-French artist, Brassaï, is acclaimed as one of France's most famous photographers, whose unique chronicler of Paris in the twenties and thirties dubbed him the “eye of Paris”, a title given by the American writer Henry Miller.
Famous for capturing the truth as well as forging the myth of Parisian bohemia, Brassaï was born Gyula Halász in Brassó, the Hungarian part of Romania, on September 9, 1899. Originally intent on becoming painter, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest in 1918 and the Akademische Hochschule in Berlin in 1921.
In 1924, Brassaï moved to Paris and supported himself as a journalist, writing for publication throughout Europe and the United States. It was in Paris that he changed his name to Brassaï, meaning Brassó. He only turned to photography to document his articles but eventually he became enchanted with the medium. After dark, he wandered his neighborhood of Montparnasse and documented prostitutes, street cleaners, and other characters of the city nightlife, publishing his work in the seminal 1993 book “Paris de Nuit”.
Though Brassaï is famous for capturing the grittier aspect of the city, he also documented high society, including the ballet, opera and intellectuals- among them his friends and contemporaries, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometti, and Henri Matisse. From 1943-45, when working as a photographer was difficult due to the German occupation, Picasso encouraged him to return to drawing, and later sculpture.
Brassaï was also an accomplished writer and painter. But Brassaï's career as a photographer resumed after the war and continued through the late 1960s; it includes work for periodicals including Harper’s Bazaar, Picture Post, and Surrealist magazines such as Verve and Minotaur.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective exhibition of Brassaï's work in 1968. His “Henri Miller, grandeur nature” was published in 1975, and a book of his photographs entitled “The Secret Paris of the 30s” in 1976. “Artists of My Life”, a collection of his photographic and verbal portraits of well-known artists, art dealers and friends was published in 1982.
At 84, Brassaï died on July 8, 1984, in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France.