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Brassai: Paris by Night

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Altogether, they contributed to the art magazine Minotaure, edited by Surrealist forerunner André Breton.

Mirrors on either side of the couple’s well-coiffed heads reflect their loving looks and blur the surrounding restaurant. While Brassaï (1899–1984) was a veritable polymath—he wrote novels, sculpted, and painted throughout his career—his pictures of Paris at night remain his career-defining masterworks. In one of Brassaï’s most famous photographs, a man and a woman canoodle in the corner of a Parisian coffee house in the early 1930s, smoke curling from a lit cigarette between the woman’s fingers. Yet it’s their deeply emotive, cinematic quality that transforms his subjects into characters with intergenerational appeal—none more so than the city of Paris itself.I particularly like the quotation from Brassai himself at the beginning – I often feel that nothing is more surreal than reality (especially in these interesting times) and it is always comforting to know that others both now and in the past have felt the same.

FIRST EDITION OF BRASSAÏ’S MASTERPIECE, ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL AND BEAUTIFUL OF ALL PHOTOBOOKS. Obliged to use photography for his assignments, he initially disliked the medium, but eventually started to appreciate its aesthetic capabilities. One, On the boulevard Saint-Jacques (1930–32), even captures Brassaï in his element: He stands on a snowy Parisian street in a heavy coat and a brimmed hat, cigarette propped between his lips, peering into a tripod-mounted camera.

The printing represents arguably the most luscious gravure ever seen, the blacks being so rich and deep that after handling the book one expects to find sooty deposits all over one’s fingers. Brassaï moved in the same circles as the surrealists–he met Picasso in 1932, and worked on Le Minotaure, the famous surrealist review. The tiny versions at the back of the book in which each scene is identified are so much sharper with higher contrast than the photographs in the body of the book.

One of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century, Brassai (1899-1984) moved to Paris from Hungary in 1924. Their nocturnal surroundings fascinated the artist, whose photographs are as much an exploration of the technical challenge of portraying darkness as portraits of a hauntingly dramatic night world.By using the Web site, you confirm that you have read, understood, and agreed to be bound by the Terms and Conditions. In 1933 Brassaï published 64 of these scenes in his first book of photographs, Paris de Nuit, which became an immediate hit. The introduction, by Paul Morand, is elegant and does a good job of describing what Paris was like at that time. When the allies liberated the city in 1944, Brassaï leaned out of his apartment window to watch—he was, as ever, the fearless voyeur.

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