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Weekly Obsession: Brassaï's Paris Night Photographs

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

Brassaï

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.

Weekly Obsession: Gerald Leslie Brockhurst

Jeunesse doré  , 1934  by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890 - 1978)  Collection: National Museum Liverpool  ©Richard Woodward

Jeunesse doré, 1934

by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890 - 1978)

Collection: National Museum Liverpool

©Richard Woodward

Gerald Brockhurst was a British artist perhaps best remembered for his glamorous portraits of high society ladies such as Marlene Dietrich and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. However, a large number of his paintings and etchings are of the women in his life - both his first wife Anais and his second, Kathleen Woodward, whom he renamed "Dorette" (pictured above).

Brockhurst's style was very influenced by the works of 15th century painters such as Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, but the expressive, psychological power of his portraits are pure 20th century.  The gazes of these women are full of intensity, whether it is projected outward at the viewer, or inward, as if the sitter is locked in a private reverie. Combined with moody, romantic landscapes in the background, these paintings pack an emotional wallop.

Jeunesse doré is one of my favorite works. Not only because of the way Dorette staunchly emerges from the grey background of the landscape and clothing by the force of her personality, but I also love the contrasting softness that resides in her face. Brockhurst has captured a the complexity of a real person here, and it feels like we are looking at Dorette on her own terms.