Friday, March 11, 2011

Brassai (Gyula Halasz)

"In the absence of a subject with which you are passionately involved, and without the excitement that drives you to grasp it and exhaust it, you may take some beautiful pictures, but not a photographic oeuvre."

"Obelisk and Fountains
in the Palace de la Concorde," 1933

"Oldest Police Station in Paris," 1933

"Notre Dame from Ile Saint-Louis," 1933

"When you meet the man you see at once that he is equipped with no ordinary eyes," comments writer Henry Miller on French photographer Brassai. And the sharpness of vision and depth of insight noted by Miller are revealed in Brassai’s lifelong photographic exploration of Paris—its people, places, and things.

Although Brassai was a leading member of the French "school" of photography, he was born Gyula Halasz in Brasso, Hungary. (He takes his pseudonym from his birthplace.) Originally Brassai had an aversion to photography. As a young man, he studied painting and sculpture in the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. Later he became a journalist, coming to Paris in 1918. There he fell in love with the city and with the camera.

Brassai sees Paris as a subject of infinite grandeur, his photographs providing a sensitive and often extremely dramatic exploration of its people, its resplendent avenues, and endlessly intriguing byways. Brassai’s reputation was established with the publication of his first book, Paris at Night, now a modern classic. Some of the pictures in this book are sharply defined, brilliantly lit, while others capture the mistiness of rainy nights. Still others concentrate on the shadowy life of the underworld.

As Brassai created more and more pictures of Parisian life, his fame became international. His pictures of "Graffiti" (writings and drawings scribbled by countless individuals on the crumbling walls of buildings) were the subject of his one - man show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Brassai has indicated something of his reason for making these pictures in the following statement: "the thing that is magnificent about photography is that it can produce images that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone."

Brassai has also had one-man shows in the Biblioth-Que Nationale in Paris, the George Eastman House in Rochester, and the Art Institute in Chicago. His work has been included in many international exhibits and published in many magazines. He was the last person to receive England’s P. H. Emerson Award, from Emerson himself. And it is interesting to note that Brassal has kept up his work in such other arts as drawing, poetry, and sculpture. Albums of his drawings and a volume of poetry, Les Pro pos de Marie, have been published, and recently he had a one-man show of 50 sculptures in Paris. Along with other great contemporary artists—Picasso, Moore, Calder, and Noguchi, Brassai had the rare honor of being asked to create a 23 X 10 foot mural for the UNESCO palace in Paris. Brassai has said many useful things about photography; one of the most valuable is the following statement: "We should try, without creasing to tear ourselves constantly by leaving our subjects and even photography itself from time to time, in order that we may come back to them with reawakened zest, with the virginal eye. That is the most precious thing we can possess".

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