The work of Brassaï, the pseudonym of Gyula Halász [Brassó, Hungary (now Romania), 1899 - Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France, 1984], is considered a crucial part of the visual culture and modern poetry that comes out of Paris in the interwar years. Following a period in Berlin, Brassaï settles in the French capital in 1924, with the city and the marginalised inhabitants alienated from established conventions quickly becoming the focal point of his work.
The one hundred and thirty photographs comprising the exhibition enable the different characteristics of his work to be traced, portraying its themes, style and poetry. The exhibit explores two avenues; one is Brassaï's role in shaping Surrealist imagery, particularly through his photographic essays published in the magazine Minotaure, and the other is the emphasis on the artist's formulation of urban night-time landscapes. Interestingly, even though Brassaï's street scenes are often nocturnal, he does not depict the depraved scenes of the night, but instead concentrates on what is suggested and the incessant repetition of desire. This thematic pattern and the photographic viewpoint and approach can be seen in the series Paris de nuit (1932).
In parallel, Brassaï develops his graffiti series, where his interest in mural languages transpires, expressed in the form of anonymous coral carvings whose creative processes is akin to “exquisite corpses” and the automatic writings promulgated by André Breton and Pierre Reverdy. The influence of Brassaï's graffiti pieces reaches as far as Informalism of the Forties and Fifties as they are considered statements that question the authority of art by many artists. The exhibition also includes the series Transmutations (links to Works/Authors) that represents Brassaï's most experimental side, somewhere between etchings and photography, that are created by scratching the image onto a glass plate.
Brassaï's work explores diverse themes, for instance nudity, redefined objects - as they are shot close-up - involuntary sculptures, artist portraits, prostitutes, market workers, the Paris streets and gardens, etc. Running through all of his work is the highly contrasted use of directional lighting for dramatic effect as well as the hidden lighting and focus which increases the ambiguity, both temporal and spatial, of the image.
A further characteristic is his use of shapeless forms and the poetic-visual effect of the material objets he photographs, as in Madrépores (1930) and Cristaux (1930). This method of composing and lighting reflects the fact that Brassaï does not practice documentary, or creative, photography, instead he considers the production of a found image. According to the exhibition's curator, Manuel Borja-Villel, this focus could be linked to, “the artistic and literary context of Surrealism that also reveals his familiarity with the notion of Pierre Mac Orlan's 'fantastique social' or with Charles Baudelaire's descriptive and urban realism.”
Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (September 14 - November 7, 1993); Centre National de la Photographie, Paris (May 21 - July 10, 1994); Rupertinum Moderne Galerie und Graphische Sammlung, Salzburg (October 2 - November 27, 1994); Museum Fredericianum, Kassel, Germany (January 21 - March 26, 1995)