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Artists Brassaï
Brassaï Photo

Brassaï

Hungarian-born, French Photographer, Draftsman, Sculptor, Writer, and Filmmaker

Movements and Styles: Street Photography, Photojournalism, Straight Photography, Documentary Photography, Surrealism

Born: September 9, 1899 - Brassó, Transylvania, Austria-Hungary

Died: July 8, 1984 - Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France

Brassaï Timeline

Quotes

'Rightly or wrongly, I felt at the time that this underground world represented Paris at its least cosmopolitan, at its most alive, its most authentic, that in these colorful faces of its underworld there had been preserved, from age to age, almost without alteration, the folklore of its most remote past."
Brassaï
'Basically, my work has been one long reportage on human life.'
Brassaï
'I was seeking the poetry of the fog which transforms people, the poetry of the night which transforms the city, the poetry of time which transforms all beings.'
Brassaï
'Night does not show things, it suggests them. It disturbs and surprises us with its strangeness. It liberates forces within us which are dominated by our reason during the daytime.'
Brassaï
'Most of the time, I was inspired by my everyday life. I believe it is the most sincere and humble depiction of reality, of the most trivial, that leads to the fantastic.'
Brassaï
'Brassaï is a living eye... his gaze pierces straight to the heart of truths in everything'
Henry Miller

'I don't invent anything. I imagine everything...Most of the time, I was inspired by my everyday life. I believe it is the most sincere and humble depiction of reality, of the most trivial, that leads to the fantastic.'

Brassaï Signature

Synopsis

Gyula Halász, or Brassaï - the pseudonym by which he has become much better known - is widely celebrated for his signature photographs of Parisian night life, and especially his book of collected photographs, Paris by Night. His breadth of range is however more expansive than that seminal collection might suggest. As a photographic freelancer and photojournalist, he contributed most to the idea of vernacular photography though, thanks in part to the Surrealists, he is often attributed with blurring any obvious distinction between what might be called street photography and what might qualify as fine art. Ultimately, it was his curiosity for the lived phenomena of twentieth-century urbanization, and of Paris in particular, that determined the subjects onto whom, and on which, he turned his lens.

Key Ideas

Brassaï wanted to "immobilize movement" (to use his own words) rather than capture the dynamic pulse of the city through movement. Like Eugène Atget, Brassaï encountered Paris at street level and in unfamiliar places; and like Atget, he often saw beauty in the mundane or the overlooked and forgotten.
Brassaï presented the varied characters he encountered as "types". He used his camera to chronicle the unseen side of human behavior: from illicit liaisons and private gatherings, to criminal activity and policing, to vagrants, and workers emerging from their long night shifts. There is spontaneity in Brassaï's work, but he did not hesitate to pose or stage his photographs when obliged to fulfill his commissions.
The photo-historian Graham Clarke described Brassaï's photographs of Paris by Night as "a psychological space of the imagination"; the "space" in question being very much enmeshed within the city's shadowy recesses. His night world is then one of brothels and hotels; bars and nightclubs rather than grandiose architecture. At the same time, Brassaï reveled in the details of the more unlikely signifiers of city life such as scrawled graffiti, gnarled hoardings and crumbling masonry.
Brassaï preferred to reveal with immediacy, showing an awareness of the beauty in a thing, a place, or a human presence in and of itself. The author Henry Miller summed up the worldview of his friend with a rhetorical question: "The desire which Brassaï so strongly evinces, a desire not to tamper with the object but regard it as it is, was this not provoked by a profound humility, a respect and reverence for the object itself?"

Biography

Brassaï Photo

Childhood

Brassaï, born Gyula Halász in Brassó, Transylvania (now Romania), was named after his father. He was the eldest of three sons and his parents were a young, upper-middle class couple. His mother, Mathilde Verzar, was catholic of Armenian descent and his father was an elegant and refined Hungarian intellectual, who provided for his family as a teacher of French literature. The young Gyula cherished the memory of living in Belle Époque Paris during his father's sabbatical leave. While his father furthered his studies at the Sorbonne and the Collège de France, Gyula and his brother Kálmán played in the Luxembourg Gardens. Gyula was fascinated by the attractions of the big city. As he later remembered it: "At the Champ de Mars, I saw Buffalo Bill and his gigantic circus with the cowboys, Indians, buffaloes, and Hungarian Csikos. At the Theatre du Chatelet, I was enthralled by a fantastic spectacle called 'Tom Pitt,' and I was at the ceremony welcoming Alfonso XIII to Paris." Upon the family's return to Brassó, Gyula started school and proved to be an interested student, especially attentive in his studies of Hungarian, German and French. He also exhibited much creativity and talent in drawing.

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Brassaï Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Brassaï
Interactive chart with Brassaï's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

János Mattis-Teutsch
André KertészAndré Kertész
Eugène AtgetEugène Atget

Personal Contacts

László Moholy-NagyLászló Moholy-Nagy
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Henry Miller
Robert Desnos

Movements

PhotojournalismPhotojournalism
Straight PhotographyStraight Photography
ExpressionismExpressionism

Influences on Artist
Brassaï
Brassaï
Years Worked: 1924 - 1984
Influenced by Artist

Artists

W. Eugene Smith
János Reismann
Henry MooreHenry Moore
Nan GoldinNan Goldin
Diane ArbusDiane Arbus

Personal Contacts

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Henry Miller
Bill BrandtBill Brandt

Movements

Street PhotographyStreet Photography
PhotojournalismPhotojournalism
Documentary PhotographyDocumentary Photography
SurrealismSurrealism

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