Brassai, a French photographer, is one of the most celebrated figures in photography. American writer, Henry Miller, once described him as a man who is equipped with “no ordinary eyes.” The depth of his insight and the sharpness of his photographic vision is revealed in Brassai’s lifelong exploration of the city of Paris – its people, places and things. His lens captured both the extraordinary and the mundane life of the city.
Brassai was born in Brasov, Hungary. In fact, Brassai is the pseudonym for Gyula Halasz. He was a leading member of the French school of photography. The young Brassai studied painting and sculpture in the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. It was in 1924, after the First World War, that he moved to Paris and started working as a journalist. He learnt the French language on his own, by reading works of Marcel Proust. It was in Paris that he fell in love with both the city and the camera.
Brassai saw Paris as a subject of infinite grandeur and his photographs provided a sensitive and sometimes an extremely dramatic exploration of the people of the city, its splendid avenues and the endlessly intriguing byways. It was the publication of his first book- ‘Paris at Night’, that established his reputation as a photographer. Some of the pictures in this book are sharply defined, well-lit shots. Others tend to capture the mistiness of the rainy nights. There are yet other pictures which capture the shadowy life of the city’s underworld. In 1948, Brassai married a French woman by name, Gilberte Boyer. She worked with him in supporting his photography.
As he produced more and more pictures of Paris, he acquired international fame. Today, his pictures of Graffiti on the walls of Paris can be found in the gallery of the New York’s Museum of Modern Art. His works are a one man show in the museum. According to Brassai, the reason for taking these pictures is that they serve the purpose of photography as an endeavour to produce emotion-inciting images based on the subject matter alone.
Besides, his photographic skills were featured in the Biblioth-Que Nationale in Paris, the George Eastman House in Rochester and the Chicago Art Institute. Many international exhibits had included his works, both during his life span and after his death. His works were featured in a number of renowned magazines. For his excellent work, he received England’s prestigious P.H. Emerson Award. In fact, he was the last person to receive this award from Emerson himself.
Apart from photography, Brassai was a poet and also an artist. A volume of his poetry, Les Pro pos de Marie was published, alongside his drawing albums. Once, he had a one-man show of 50 sculptures in Paris. He had the rare honor of being asked to create a 23 x 10 foot mural for the UNESCO palace, in Paris. He shares this honor with other great contemporaries like Picasso, Moore, Calder, and Noguchi. He died in 1984 in the French village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, at the age of 84.