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Brassai: Paris by Night

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We collect information from our users – this is for administration and contact purposes in connection with contributions you may wish to make to the site or your use of certain site features such as newsletter subscriptions and property enquiries. The book was a quick hit, and Brassaï received new commissions for publications ranging from the erotic magazine Scandale to Harper’sBazaar. The results of this project --- a fascinatingly tawdry collection of prostitutes, pimps, madams, transvestites, apaches, and assorted cold-eyed pleasure-seekers --- was published in 1933 as Paris de Nuit, one of the most remarkable of all photographic books. The printing represents arguably the most luscious gravure ever seen, the blacks being so rich and deep that after handling the book one expects to find sooty deposits all over one’s fingers. Paris by Night" is a stunning portrait of nighttime in the City of Light, as captured by its most articulate observer.

Roaming Paris streets by night in the early 1930s, Brassa created arresting images of the city's dramatic nocturnal landscape. Before World War II struck the city, he captured foggy avenues with bare trees, the gate to the Luxembourg Gardens, bridges, and street façades. In a 1968 catalogue for a Brassaï exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, novelist Lawrence Durrell wrote: “He is very much a child of Paris, and in some ways the city’s most faithful biographer.Mirrors on either side of the couple’s well-coiffed heads reflect their loving looks and blur the surrounding restaurant. The world that Brassaï had photographed with such adoration was gone, though he continued to live and work in France until his death in 1984. You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice. Brassai was probably more responsible than most for generating the noir genre associated with Paris but that, I think, was a function of his equipment. The current edition has been printed in heliogravure using Brassai's original plates, with the exception of photographs for which the plates have disappeared and which have been reproduced from the 1933 edition: numbers 2, 49, 55, 58, 59 60, 61, as well as the paving-stones appearing on the endpapers.

Forms dance in silent, slow movements beckoning you forward, hinting of a meaning slightly underwater, gently out of grasp. Brassaï moved in the same circles as the surrealists–he met Picasso in 1932, and worked on Le Minotaure, the famous surrealist review.

This new edition gives us the same images and, according to the publisher’s statement, “uses the latest engraving technology to reproduce faithfully the quality of the original photographs”. While his images reflect the glitter and gaiety the city was famous for—the brilliantly lit grand staircase of the Opéra on a gala night, the Eiffel Tower blazing with lights in the shape of shooting stars, cancan girls doing high kicks at the Bal Tabarin, Brassaï also included the grittier side of Paris by night: a row of clochards sleeping under the colonnade of the Bourse de Commerce; an elderly homeless woman dressed in the tattered remnants of her former finery; a ragpicker crouched on the cobblestones, digging through a trashcan. Thus, as well as a wonderful collection of very evocative images, the book can act as a reminder of the importance in engaging the intellect to make such images.

In the early thirties [Brassaï] set about photographing the night of Paris, especially at its more colorful and more disreputable levels. While Brassaï (1899–1984) was a veritable polymath—he wrote novels, sculpted, and painted throughout his career—his pictures of Paris at night remain his career-defining masterworks. He was soon drawn into the artistic life around the Montparnasse, and also held a daytime job as a journalist. Their nocturnal surroundings fascinated the artist, whose photographs are as much an exploration of the technical challenge of portraying darkness as portraits of a hauntingly dramatic night world. Slowly my eyes become acclimatized to the night setting and I start to wonder about the people being photographed: I wonder about the photo of a lone prostitute standing at a corner, the light of an out of sight window or gas lamp casting her long shadow onto the sidewalk.The more I reflect upon the workload itself, I wonder about his habits as he went out each night to photograph. There is plenty of atmosphere in the pictures and I particularly like the one of two policemen having a quiet cigarette out side their station.

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