Weekly Obsession: Brassaï's Paris Night Photographs

Brassaï   Chez 'Suzy' , 1931-32  Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris


Chez 'Suzy', 1931-32

Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris

Recently, in a bookstore, I happened to glance up and was arrested by the cover image (pictured above) of a photography book clear across the room. The book was Brassaï, Paris Nocturne. Nearly half an hour later, completely entranced, I left with a head full of Brassaï's captivating images of the external and internal environs of nocturnal Paris in the 1930s.

Brassaï  (given name: Gyula Halász) was born in Hungary, studied art in Berlin, and moved to Paris in 1924. Originally, he had little interest in photography, but took it up in his "desire to translate all of the things that enchanted me in the nocturnal Paris I was experiencing." His images of prostitutes, pimps, gangsters, and tramps as well as the buildings, streets and canals have a strong atmospheric presence highlighted by the electric, gas and neon lighting of the time.

I love the blend of the documentary with the artistic in Brassaï's work. His images are not snapshots. Rather, he enlisted the people around him to form tableaux that still retain a feeling of naturalness. They are posed, but they are posed within the confines of believability. 

Also, Brassaï's deft use of lighting to bring out both the feeling and form of a place and it's people leaves me in awe. The mix of fog, rain, and light combine with mise-en-scène to give these photographs a very compelling, cinematic feel that has stayed with me ever since.