Brassaï became famous for his documentation of Paris at night during the 1920s and 30s.
He had come to photography late, as life at the beginning of the 20th century was anything but straightforward. During the First World War, he was a cavalryman in the Austro-Hungarian army. Afterwards, he trained as an artist and by 1924, had moved on to Paris. There he became a newspaper reporter, and occasionally illustrated his articles with his own photographs.
Brassaï was inspired by the atmospheric night time photography of Kertész, and he was able to create a unique document of Parisian nightlife that inhabited the bars, clubs and bordellos of the Montparnasse area, “They belong to the world of pleasure, of love, vice, crime, drugs”. He became a familiar sight in the area photographing workers, dancers, musicians, pimps, gentlemen of leisure and ladies of pleasure.
In 1935, his second night time book was published, entitled 'Voluptés de Paris' ("Pleasures of Paris"). At the time, its scandalous subject matter caused quite a stir and it was not until 1976 when a more complete version (‘The Secret Paris of the 30's’) was published, that one could fully appreciate the body of work, which he had produced.
Brassaï met Picasso in 1932. This mutal respect led to surrealist developments made to about thirty negatives of 'nudes', dating from 1931-1935. Brassaï, inspired by Picasso, created over 150 'scratchings directly onto the negative of these nudes. A few were published at the time, but this work was recovered and finally was exhibited in Paris, 2000.
The exhibition, 'Brassaï/Picasso: Conversations with Light', presented the various states of these 'scratchings'. Here the photography sometimes vanished into thin air. And in other places, a few scraps of the original image survived; a nipple, a foreshortened face, a thigh, an arm. Brassaï called these images 'Transmutations'.
For further information, click on the following links: Brassai and Paris. Please note that this link is only a starting point in to the life of this artist.
Online: June 2004 (updated 2017)