Brassaï (Gyula Halász) French, born Austria-Hungary, 1899-1984
A photographer, painter, sculptor, and writer, Brassaï became known during the 1930s for his photographs of Parisian nightlife. Initially interested in painting, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest (1918-19), and the Academische Hochschule, Berlin-Charlottenburg (1921-22). He adopted the name Brassaï (after his hometown, Brasso) following his move in 1924 to Paris, where he worked as a painter and journalist for Hungarian and German newspapers.
Around 1929-30 Brassaï began to take photographs, receiving advice from Hungarian photographer André Kertész. His special interest was the city at night; during his walks after dark he photographed Paris dance halls, cafes, bars, and bordellos, as well as the vagrants and thugs who roamed the dimly lit streets. In 1933 Brassaï's nocturnal views of Paris were published as Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night). The book was a great success and helped to launch his photographic career.
Brassaï began to receive assignments from such journals as Verve, Labyrinthe, and Minotaure, a new review of art and literature which commissioned him to photograph artists and their studios. He also became associated with Harper's Bazaar and over the next three decades completed many assignments for the magazine. Among the artists and writers he came to know during this period were Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometto, André Breton, Tristan Tzara, and Man Ray.
During the German occupation of Paris in the 1940s, no longer able to wander freely through the streets, Brassaï turned to drawing; he also began to photograph Picasso's sculpture in his Paris studio. After the war, Brassaï continued his photographic series Graffiti and designed the photographic backdrops for several plays and ballets; he also published Histoire de Marie (1949), a surrealist poem with a preface by Henry Miller. In the mid-1950s he won a prize at the Cannes film festival for his movie Tant qui'il y aura des bêtes and in 1964 published a critically acclaimed book, Conversations avec Picasso. Throughout his career Brassaï exhibited his pictures widely, including a one-person exhibition of his photographs of graffiti at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the mid-1950s, followed by a retrospective of his work there in 1968. M.M.