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"The meaning of art is not authenticity but the expression of authenticity," wrote the Hungarian-born photographer Gyula Hal▀sz, better known as Brassan, whose unflinching yet deeply sensual portraits of the seamier side of Paris nightlife during the 1930s and 1940s summon up an era when decadence and desperation ran side by side. Brassan's curiosity about his subjects and the originality of his approach highlight the depth of his identification with Paris, his adopted city. The son of a professor of French literature, Brassan had first visited the city at the age of 5; later, in the early 1920s, he returned to make it his home after completion of studies in fine art in Budapest and Berlin. Settling in the bohemian arrondissement of Montparnasse, mixing with artists and writers, Brassan took up photography "in order to capture the beauty of streets and gardens in the rain and fog, and to capture Paris by night." He lures us into the smoky, highly charged world of clubs and cafTs, where nicotine-stained lovers in cheap clothes become impossibly desirable through the camera's lens. Streets, stairways, and canals are moodily lit; even a man rummaging for food in a rubbish bin takes on a cinematic aura. Yet Brassan's photographs contain a strange mixture of seediness and resilience that ultimately triumphs over any false notions of glamour. He depicts scenes of poverty and its trappings--alcoholism, prostitution, violence, hunger. The chaotic social whirl of 1930s Paris dies down to the quiet suffering of a city under occupation, with its two great literary lights, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, sitting out the war, stony-faced in the CafT de Flore. Accompanied by extracts from Brassan's own writings, contemporaries such as Henry Miller, and essays from other contributors, and containing 308 images, Brassan is a fine testament to an artist whose images of one city have proved so enduring. --Catherine Taylor, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The first photograph in this definitive volume of photographer Brassai's now classic work is a self-portrait dated 1932-34. Standing in black-tie, camera in hand, the Transylvania-born artist gazes with large, widely spaced, hawkish eyes; ferocious eyes, patient eyes, eyes that shine in the dark. Brassai (1899-1984) came to Paris in 1924 and worked as a journalist before picking up the camera in 1929 to take pictures of the city he'd come to love in the depths of night when streetwalkers and... read more --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.