Brassaii – Paris Nocturne

Brassaii- Paris-Nocturne_cover

Copyright the estate of Brassaii, 2013 published by Thanes & Hudson Ltd London

As a photobook collector as well as a photographer, I am drawn to certain photobooks. Perhaps it’s the subject, such that photographs that investigated the built landscapes, although in this case with Brassaii’s nocturne photographs, predominantly created in the 1930’s (and the majority on glass plates no less), is an interesting combination of a well-known body of work for a couple of photobooks that I do not have in conjunction with a photographic process that bedeviled me for years, night time photography. This is not a how-to photographic book although providing technical background on Brassaii’s technique is provided sparingly. The main focus of this book is on his body of work in context with this time period of Paris in the 1930’s.

Brassaii/Brassai/ Brassaï was the pseudonym of Gyula (Julius) Halasz, a Hungarian photographer, in which he frequently signed his pseudonym name with one “i” at the end of his name, but with a two dotes on top (Brassaï), more of what we might today think of a stylistic logo. As a result, since the double dotted “i” is not a common font, his name is usually spelled out as Brassaii or sometimes truncated to Brassai. This is an investigation of the three photobooks that created Brassii’s photographic reputation, which is where my interest lay in reviewing this book.

Brassaii’s first photobook was Paris de nuit (Paris After Dark) published to grain acclaim, an instant “hit”, which was published in 1932. His second photobook Voluptes de Paris (Pleasures of Paris) published in 1935 was to receive much less acclaim and Brassaii was to later drop this book title from his resume. This book provides some insights as to why Brassaii might not have been thrilled with the second book publication. Brassaii’s third Paris photobook that placed him and his nighttime photographs firmly on the photographic map was Le Paris secret des annes 30 (The Secret Paris of the 30’s) published in 1976.

For me, this book, part biography, part photobook, is a mission accomplished to further appreciate this fascinating part of Brassaii’s oeuvre and further understand his relationship with the Paris Surrealism movement in the 30’s.

This dense hardcover book is edited as well as providing essays by Sylvie Aubenas and Quentin Bajac. The book also includes a bibliography, captions, notated references and profuse notes and appears very well researched.  I am reviewing the English edition of this title. The original first edition of Brassaii – Paris Nocturne is copyright 2012 by editions Gallimard, Paris. The book is very nicely printed and bound in Spain by T.F. Graficas as the very deep blacks of the plates provide what appears as great reproductions of Brassaii’s night time photographs. Overall, very well done.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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4 thoughts on “Brassaii – Paris Nocturne

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  1. Beautiful collection of pictures, the atmosphere reminds me of the daydream like stroll in “Midnight in Paris”. My favourite is the foto with the lantern getting lit, it has something magical to it ❤

  2. “in which he frequently signed his pseudonym name with one “i” at the end of his name, but with a two dotes on top (Brassaï), more of what we might today think of a stylistic logo”

    It’s an orthographic convention, a diaeresis, that indicates that the two vowels are pronounced as a seperate syllables i.e Brassaï is pronounced Brass-ah-eye not Brass-aye.

    He was born in the town of Brassó in Transylvania (now Brasov in Romania) and adopted the name Brassaï (in Hungarian, “one from Brassó”) as a nickname when he went to Paris. Perhaps because the French had some problems pronouncing or writing down or remembering his name Gyula Halász (pronounced like DUW-Laa HO-la-zuh).

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