Brassaï’s Photographs of Paris Are on Display at the SFMoMA

A view of a city at night

The Museum of Modern Art of San Francisco (SFMoMA) is offering a black and white tour of 1930s Paris, seen through the lens of photographer Brassaï. The exhibit “Brassaï” will be showing until February 18th, 2019.

Grouped around 18 themes, some of the photos capture scenes of Paris at night, Paris during the day, details of the female figure, cabarets, street dances, portraits, and self portraits. The exhibit also follows Brassaï on his travels around France and abroad, especially in Spain.

Born Gyula Halász in 1899, the immigrant from Brasso in Transylvania arrived in Paris in 1924. Living in Montparnasse, he originally concentrated on journalism before turning to photography, first to illustrate his articles, then as his principal effort. The publication of his book Paris at Night in 1933 was a great success. Brassaï captures empty streets, staircases, bridges, and monuments, as well as the shady side of Paris, that of prostitutes and brothels.

The 1930s are synonymous with artistic expansion and growth: Brassaï frequently photographed Picasso, Dali, Matisse, Jacques Prévent, Henry Miller, whose portraits are part of the SFMoMA exhibit.

During World War II, Brassaï stopped photographing, refusing to submit his photos to German censorship. He returned to writing, then resuming photography the day after the war’s armistice. He died at the age of 84, in the South of France, leaving behind thousands of photographs and films, and numerous written pieces. The retrospective showing at the SFMoMA offers appreciation of Brassaï’s many faceted talent.

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