BRASSAI

Through the eyes of Versailles.

June 1 — August 31

GALLERY

He was born in 1899 and his real name was Gyula Halasz. He took the nickname Brassaï from the town of his birth, Brasso, in Transylvania (then part of the Kingdom of Hungary).

Before turning 20, he enlisted in a cavalry regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army and fought the First World War until its end.

He taught himself French solely by reading the works of Marcel Proust. “I was seeking the poetry of the fog which transforms people, the poetry of the night which transforms the city, the poetry of time which transforms all beings."

He had hopes of becoming a journalist and was scornful of photography until he met fellow Hungarian André Kertész in Paris, who would teach him how to take pictures.

He compiled his first collection of photographs in 1933, in a book called Paris la Nuit, an exploration of the city’s demi-monde featuring madams, prostitutes, transvestites, hoodlums, opium dens and cheap music halls.

In his 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller described his Parisian adventures and meanderings with the photographer, calling him “the eye of Paris”, writing “Brassaï is a living eye...his gaze pierces straight to the heart of truths in everything.”

Immediately after World War II, his native village Brasso became absorbed by Romania and Brassaï’s Hungarian papers were deemed invalid. The photographer stayed stateless for four years, until he married Gilberte Boyer and became a naturalized French citizen in 1949.

He shot with a large 6.5 x 9 cm Voigtländer Bergheil folding camera (and sometimes with a Rolleiflex), which he mounted on a heavy wooden tripod. For interior photographs, he worked with an assistant who prepared a flash powder gun and a reflecting screen while he merrily chatted with his subjects.

Picasso nicknamed Brassaï “The Terrorist” because of the explosions caused by the flash powder, which were extremely loud and bright and gave his pictures their characteristic lighting.

During his life, he created over 35,000 images. Most of his negatives, prints and contact sheets are today housed at the George Pompidou Centre in Paris.