Brassai (Gyula Halasz)
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Brassaï (pseudonym of Gyula
Halász) (September 9, 1899 – July 8, 1984) was a Hungarian photographer,
sculptor, and filmmaker who rose to fame in France.
Gyula Halász was born in Brassó (Braşov), in south-east Transylvania,
Austria-Hungary (today in Romania), to a Hungarian father and an Armenian
mother. He is sometimes incorrectly described as Jewish. At age three,
his family moved to live in Paris, France for a year, while his father, a
Professor of Literature, taught at the Sorbonne. As a young man, Gyula
Halász studied painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in
Budapest, before joining a cavalry regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army,
where he served until the end of the First World War. In 1920 Halász went
to Berlin, where he worked as a journalist and studied at the Berlin-Charlottenburg
Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1924 he moved to Paris where he would live the rest of his life. In
order to learn the French language, he began teaching himself by reading
the works of Marcel Proust. Living amongst the huge gathering of artists
in the Montparnasse Quarter, he took a job as a journalist. He soon became
friends with Henry Miller, Léon-Paul Fargue, and the poet Jacques Prévert.
Gyula Halász's job and his love of the city, whose streets he often
wandered late at night, led to photography. He later wrote that
photography allowed him to seize the Paris night and the beauty of the
streets and gardens, in rain and mist. Using the name of his birthplace,
Gyula Halász went by the pseudonym "Brassaï," which means "from Brasso."
As Brassaï, he captured the essence of the city in his photographs,
publishing his first book of photographs in 1933 titled "Paris de nuit"
("Paris by Night"). His efforts met with great success, resulting in his
being called "the eye of Paris" in an essay by his friend Henry Miller. In
addition to photos of the seedier side of Paris, he also provided scenes
from the life of the city's high society, its intellectuals, its ballet,
and the grand operas. He photographed many of his great artist friends,
including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti,
plus many of the prominent writers of his time such as Jean Genet, Henri
Michaux and others.
Brassaï's photographs brought him international fame leading to a one-man
show in the United States at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New
York, the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois, and at New York City's
Museum of Modern Art.
In 1956, his film, Tant qu'il y aura des bêtes, won the "Most Original
Film" award at the Cannes Film Festival and in 1974 he was made Knight of
the Order of Arts and Letters and given the Legion of Honor in 1976. Two
years later, in 1978, he won the first "Grand Prix National de la
Photographie" in Paris.
As well as a photographer, Brassaï was the author of seventeen books and
numerous articles, including the 1948 novel Histoire de Marie, which was
published with an introduction by Henry Miller. His Letters to My Parents
and Conversations with Picasso, have been translated into English and
published by the University of Chicago Press.
After 1961, when he stopped taking photographs, Brassaï concentrated his
considerable energy on sculpting in stone and bronze. Several tapestries
were made from his designs based on his photographs of graffiti.
Gyula Halász died on July 7, 1984 in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Alpes-Maritimes, in
the south of France and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in