Masters of Photography: Brassai
After our article about Robert Doisneau, we’ve got another entry in our Masters of Photography for you, and today we’re looking at the work of Gyula Halász, better known as Brassai (9 September 1899 – 8 July 1984).
Brassai, as he would come to be known, took his name from the town of Brasso in Transylvania, home of Stoker’s famous Count Dracula. This is fitting as some of Brassaï’s most well-known works; his images of night time Paris, strongly evoke the gothic felling of Stocker’s text.
In addition to photography, Brassai was a talented painter and sculptor, which he studied at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts.
Brassaï fought in the First World War, serving in the cavalry regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army. His service during the war likely changed the way he saw the world and how he positioned it in his lens.
Even though his images are naturally black and white, there is a certain air of macabre and gothic nature to his works. In many of his works, there is an object between his camera and his subject, as if something is lurking outside of view, trying to crawl into the frame. This is heightened by the area of Paris in which he took many of these famed photographs; Montparnasse, a district of the city renowned for its artists, streetwalkers, and petty criminals.
Brassaï also made strong use of shadow in his works, often positioning his camera so that the shadow is closer to the foreground than the subject, and sometimes even capturing his entire subject in shadow, so that all that can be seen of them is a dark shape.
This experimentation with light and contrast is one of the things that makes Brassaï’s work so distinctive; many of his scenes are in almost total darkness save for the subject, or in many images featuring people. Their faces and hands are the only part of them in the “light”, with their bodies being in shadow or wearing dark clothes.
Brassaï’s work brought him international fame, and he was able to travel the world, particularly America, presenting his work at exhibitions and one-man shows. Brassaï remained active and continued to be recognised for his incredible images right up until his death in 1984, and beyond!