Author(s): Peter Galassi (editor)
This sumptuous Brassai overview gathers outstanding prints of his finest and most popular photographs, drawing on the Estate Brassai in Paris and the collections of leading museums in France and the United States. The work is organized into 18 thematic groupings, such as “Paris by Night,” “Portraits” and “Self-Portraits,” “Body of a Woman,” “Graffiti,” “Places and Things,” “Pleasures” and “The Street,” focusing throughout on his celebrated depictions of 1930s Paris.
When Brassai took up photography in the late 1920s, after his move to Paris in 1924 (from his native Brassov in Austria-Hungary, via Budapest and Berlin), the photobook was blossoming as a new art form ripe for exploration. Brassai gave the genre one of its undisputed classics, Paris de nuit (1933)—the first in what is now a long line of photobooks portraying cities by night. The book was popular with both cognoscenti and tourists, and made Brassai famous; he became the first great chronicler of the urban underbelly, with images of prostitutes, gangsters, brothels and night clubs.
Today Brassai is canonical, and easily one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, as this 368-page volume—the most beautifully produced and edited survey of his accomplishment in print—amply attests.
Born Gyula Halász, Brassai (1899–1984) began his career as a sculptor, painter and journalist, forming friendships with artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Jacques Prévert, Henri Michaux and Henry Miller, most of whom he later photographed. Brassaï published numerous great photobooks throughout his career, including Voluptés de Paris (1935), Henry Miller: The Paris Years (1975) and Artists of My Life (1982). The George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, the Art Institute in Chicago and The Museum of Modern Art in New York have all held retrospectives of his work.