(Hungarian/French, 1899–1984), born Gyula Halasz, took his name from his hometown of Brasso, Transylvania, which later became Hungary. He studied painting and sculpture in the academies of Budapest and Berlin before joining the cavalry of the Austro-Hungarian army, where he served until the end of World War I. After his tenure in the army, he was drawn to Paris, where he had lived as a child while his father taught at the Sorbonne. Upon arriving in Paris in 1924, Brassaï gravitated towards the Montparnasse neighborhood where he began working as a painter and journalist. It was during this time that he met artists such as Pablo Picasso
(Spanish, 1881–1973) and Joan Miró
(Spanish, 1893–1983). Within the next decade, he realized his love for the photographic medium and began documenting Paris at night. His explorations of the city brought him into contact with prostitutes, madams, and pleasure-seekers, whose photographs were compiled into his 1933 publication Paris de Nuit
With Paris offering endless promenades and an inexhaustible cast of intriguing characters, Brassaï was able to capture seemingly average citizens from a point of view that was anything but mundane. His nighttime photos have a grainy texture, and frequently lack the quality of a professional photograph. He preferred to shoot in this way because he believed that it reflected the darkness and peculiar personalities he encountered prowling the streets and bistros of nocturnal Paris. His published portfolio was lauded by the great British photographer Peter Henry Emerson
(British, 1856–1936). Brassaï’s subsequent book Voluptés de Paris
was published in 1935 and gave the artist international credibility.
During the German occupation in 1940, Brassaï headed to southern France, only to return to the City of Lights to rescue negatives he had hidden there. His inexhaustible dedication to his art earned him many awards and honors during his lifetime, including Most Original Film at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Legion d’honneur in 1976. His photographs would later serve as the backdrop for Jacques Prévert’s ballet, Le Rendez-vous
. He died in 1984, and is now buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. Since his death, several large scale retrospectives have been held in honor of his work.