Show of Brassai photographs captures light and shade of Paris

Wed Nov 6, 2013 4:27pm EST
 
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By Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - Two lovers embrace on a double-sided bench, the backs of their heads illuminated by the garish light of a Paris gas lamp.

But a second glance at the 1931-32 Brassai photograph reveals a more tawdry, though no less evocative image: an ageing tramp with disheveled hair sleeping on the other side.

Light and shadow, romance and seediness, youth and age - these are the contrasting elements brought to life by Brassai during more than 50 years photographing Paris, presented in "Brassai - For the Love of Paris", opening on Friday at Paris's city hall.

These are images of a bygone era whose central characters - workers gathered around zinc-topped bars, prostitutes lingering in doorways, or vegetable sellers surrounded by mounds of carrots and leeks at the pre-dawn Les Halles market - are always illuminated by ambient light.

"(Brassai) shows an obvious taste for thick fog and waits until the gas lamps, the car headlights or the glow of cigarettes ... reveal their subjects like ghostly apparitions," read the exhibition notes.

Called the "living eye" by his friend, the American author Henry Miller, Brassai was born Gyulus Halasz on September 9, 1899, in the city of Brasov - then part of the Kingdom of Hungary and now in Romania.

Arriving in Paris in 1925, he adopted the pseudonym Brassai as he ventured into journalism, and picked up a camera four years later for photographs to accompany his articles. He remained in Paris until his death in 1984.

"Curiously, when he arrived in Paris, he never went back to Hungary. That was the first question I asked myself: Why?" said the show's curator, Agnes de Gouvion Saint-Cyr.   Continued...

 
People look at photographs as they visit the exhibition "Brassai - For the Love of Paris" at Paris City Hall November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen