Brassaï’s close-ups of graffiti carved and painted on Parisian city walls were first seen in the Surrealist magazine Minotaure in 1933, however he would continue to photograph images of graffiti for the next three decades, culminating in the publication of the book, Graffiti, in 1961.
With this project, ‘the eye of Paris’ as he was called by his great friend Henry Miller, detects and captures the secret language of the walls and how the city itself is subject to alteration, defacement and obliteration by any passing hand or the vagaries of time.
Andre Breton had ended Nadja with the bold statement that: “Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all.” In L’Amour Fou (Mad Love) from 1937 he further expands on the theme with the declaration: “Convulsive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed-explosive, magic-circumstantial, or won’t be at all.” Accompanying the text are three photographs illustrating the types of convulsive beauty: Man Ray‘s Veiled-Erotic, a stunning nude study of the Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim, Fixed-Explosive also by Man Ray and Brassai‘s strange Magic-Circumstantial. All the images had previously appeared in the Surrealist magazine Minotaure.
One of the greatest of 20th century photographers, Brassai’s reputation rests largely on the iconic images of Parisian street and night life he captured in his 1933 book Paris de nuit (Paris by night), which with its noir, atmospheric depiction of fog bound streets, bustling cafes and brothel scenes populated by lovers, prostitutes, pimps and other coldly calculating seekers of pleasure, forever sealed in the popular imagination the myth of Paris as the quintessential bohemian city. Considering the milieu he portrayed it is maybe no surprise that Brassai was also a master of the nude study. Many of his more abstract and experimental nudes of the 1930’s were featured in the Surrealist magazine Minotaure.
Born Gyula Halasz in Brasov, Transylvania, at the time part of Hungary, later Romania, in 1899, Brassai studied in Budapest and Berlin before moving to Paris in 1924, where he would live for the rest of his life. Here he adopted his pseudonym Brassai, taken from the name of his home town. He took up photography initially only to supplement his income, however he soon realised that it was the perfect medium to capture the nocturnal essence of Paris. He was a friend to many of the artists and writers of the period, including Henry Miller, Salvador Dali, Picasso, Henri Matisse and Alberto Giacometti.
I have including below a mixture of his experimental and documentary studies of the female form.