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Brassai: Paris by Night

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La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre, 1932Gyula Halász was born in Brassó, Hungary (now Brașov, Romania) and lived most of his adult life in Paris.

In one of Brassaï’s most famous photographs, a man and a woman canoodle in the corner of a Parisian coffee house in the early 1930s, smoke curling from a lit cigarette between the woman’s fingers. Compare the lovely, striking, somewhat mysterious image on the cover with the drab reproduction of the same photograph on page 14. When I slowly turn the pages of the 62 duotone photographs this book consists of, based on Brassaï’s original photographic plates, the twilight world slowly draws me into its ‘phantom planes’, and in doing so this world at moments worries me, as If I am with delay soon about to discover something troublesome within its frames. Paris by Night, first published in 1933, features sixty-two of these poetic images, and has become an acknowledged classic of urban photography. Forms dance in silent, slow movements beckoning you forward, hinting of a meaning slightly underwater, gently out of grasp.This uniquely modern perspective has inspired a new generation of art critics and historians, and the centenary of Brassaï’s birth was the catalyst for major retrospective exhibitions at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery in Washington, and the Hayward Gallery in London.

The printing represents arguably the most luscious gravure ever seen, the blacks being so rich and deep that after handling the book one expects to find sooty deposits all over one’s fingers.The introduction, by Paul Morand, is elegant and does a good job of describing what Paris was like at that time. First American Edition (1987) of a book originally published in France by Arts et Metiers Graphiques in 1933. Lights from cars, windows, hotel signs, snowy grounds, and watery reflections enhance the sense of drama in his dreamy nocturnal shots. One should think of it as amongst the best produced and influential photobooks ever” ( The Photobook, Vol.

We’re looking at these views of 1930s Parisian society,” says Lehtinen, “but they’re also these incredible reflections on broader themes of community, labor, sexuality, gender, class, solitude…alienation, strangeness.The current reissue of Paris by Night brings one of the last century’s key photographic works back into print. Roaming the city at night, he brought his camera along and began to capture the unique flora and fauna of nighttime Paris. While Brassaï (1899–1984) was a veritable polymath—he wrote novels, sculpted, and painted throughout his career—his pictures of Paris at night remain his career-defining masterworks.

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