Some people may disagree with me, but I really think Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s known as Ville Lumière (the City of Light). It was one of the first cities to adopt street lighting, and it kind of marked the beginning of modern urban life. And as photography was once described as “painting with light”, I think, Paris and photography are a perfect match.
Probably, the most beautiful, magical and dreamlike photos of light in Paris were made by Brassaї. His friend, the author Henry Miller, nicknamed him “The Eye of Paris” for his devotion to the city.
Brassaї (1899–1984) was a leading member of French “school” photography, but he was born as Gyula Halász in Brașov, Transylvania, Romania, and took his pseudonym from his birthplace. He moved to Paris in 1924, where he took a job as a journalist. He wrote that he used photography “in order to capture the beauty of streets and gardens in the rain and fog, and to capture Paris by night.”
His first photo-book, published in 1933 and entitled Paris de nuit (Paris After Dark), remains the most famous exploration of the city’s hidden underbelly, and is considered a classic of early street photography. It was also a great technical achievement, as photographers of that era rarely took photos at night. But Brassaї invented ingenious tricks, like gauging extended exposure times by how long it took for him to smoke a Gauloises, to help him take those marvelous photos, he wanted. He called his prints his “little boxes of night” because of the richness and depth of the darkness and light in them.
Brassai also portrayed scenes from the life of the city’s high society, its intellectuals, its ballet, and the grand operas.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he was shooting commercial assignments for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar.
He cited Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as his artistic influence, and was close to many artists: Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jean Genet etc.