Brassai (1899-1984) was Picasso’s favourite photographer. ‘His Paris by Night (1936) was one of the most influential photobooks of the twentieth century'(course notes p85).
‘Brassai created dramatic pictures of Paris in the 20s and 30s. He photographed only at night creating an ‘insomniac’s’ view of the city…(His) pictures reveal nocturnal Paris as a bittersweet place of tenderness and sex, loneliness, violence and melancholy’. (Ingledew p51)
Just as I had an image in my mind of Rut Blees Luxemburg, walking the city streets, alone, capturing images of things usually unnoticed, I can picture Brassai, walking the familiar streets of Paris, saying hello to the people others would avoid, capturing the scenes that day time city folk never see. Brassai photographed ‘gangsters, prostitutes, night-workers and down-and-outs…the city’s graffiti – drawings, carvings, scratchings, initials and love hearts..’ (Ingledew p51)
In his interview with Tony Ray-Jones, Brassai explains ‘I used to not like photography at all. When I was twenty I had never photographed anything. I started when I was about thirty in Paris. I walked around Paris a lot at night and saw many things. I sought a means of expressing these sights that I saw and a woman loaned me a small camera. And so I begun to take night photos in 1930. I knew Andre Kertesz and worked with him doing articles for magazines but I wanted above all to photograph the night, which excited me..’
Here are some of Brassai’s image from his Paris by Night collection:
Brassai’s Paris images are compelling in their documentary of the hidden night-time life of Paris. To me, they have a dreamlike, magical softness, despite their high contrast, and their frequent depiction of the hardness of life. I imagine his habit of frequenting the Paris streets at night got him well known among other night street people and gave him access to places that would be intimidating or frightening to most people.
Brassai used the ambient night lighting and flash to capture his images, his shots took advantage of the cooperation of his relationships with other night time city people in his use of staged compositions and close-up portraits.
Please see my post on Sato Shintaro who also photographed city streets at night, but with very different results.
At: https://www.bing.com/images/search?&q=brassai+paris+by+night&qft=+filterui:license-L2_L3_L4_L5_L6_L7&FORM=R5IR42 (Accessed 19 February 2017)
Amer (2011) Tony Ray-Jones interviews Brassai” Pt. I (1970) | #ASX. Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/08/interview-brassai-with-tony-ray-jones.html (Accessed: 19 February 2017).
Ingledew, J. and Gullachsen, L. (2013) Photography. 2nd edn. London: Laurence King Publishing.