Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brassai's Paris in New York

Brassai's show, Paris in the 30's, is in it's last week at the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Brassaï (1899 – 1984) was born Gyula Halász a century ago in the Transylvanian town of Brasso (hence Brassaï, meaning "of Brasso"). After attending art school in Berlin, Brassaï moved to Paris in 1924. He was immediately caught up by the city’s effervescent bohemian life. Supporting himself as a journalist, Brassaï took up photography in 1930, initially to illustrate his articles. His fascination for the hidden face of the city of light as it unfolds in the dark culminated in 1932 with the publication of his first book, the classic Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night).

Brassaï’s subject matter was often candid. His approach however was at an opposite pole from the then emerging genre of photojournalism. The key to his art was patience and long exposures. Using makeshift and cumbersome tools - a wobbly tripod, a piece of string to measure the distance of object to camera, and the noisy, smelly bang of magnesium at a time when faster film had outdated it - Brassaï carefully composed each picture, turning his subjects into archetypes.

Like his Surrealist friends, Brassaï was intent on disclosing the fantastic nature inherent in modern urban life. Brassaï never adhered to Surrealism as a dogmatic movement, but he contributed important works to the influential Surrealist publication Minotaure. His strikingly abstract pictures of graffiti were first published in Minotaure, as were his photographs of Picasso's sculptures. Closely associated with the artistic world of his time, Brassaï produced iconic portraits of Picasso, Giacometti and Henry Miller, among others. Miller, who discovered the secret side of Paris with Brassaï, dubbed the photographer "The Eye of Paris".

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