On this day, 9th of September in 1899, Gyula Halasz was born in Brasso (Brasov), Austria-Hungary (now Romania) to a Hungarian father and Armenian mother. When he was three his family relocated to Paris, where his father worked as a French literature professor at the Sorbonne university. Gyula later went on to attend the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest in 1918. He studied painting and sculpture at the university. He went to Berlin in 1920 to work as a journalist for Hungarian papers — Keleti and Napkelet. During this period, he joined the Berlin-Charlottenburg Academy of Fine Arts to further enhance his artistic skills. He travelled back to Paris in 1924 and settled there for the rest of his life, excelling in painting, sculpting, photography and journalism. In his artistic career, he took upon the pseudonym ‘Brassai’, which literally means ‘someone who belongs to Brasov’, during the period when he was photographically capturing the beauty of the nightlife in Paris.
Brassai gained recognition for his work on Paris nightlife during the 1930s. He became one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. This Hungary-born French artist released his pictures in the form of two photo-books, which became masterpieces of his exceptional works. He published his first book of photographs in 1933, ‘Paris de nuit’ (\’Paris by Night\’). The book was considered a masterpiece as it contains many secrets of the city. The acclaim of this book led to him being bestowed the title ‘the eye of Paris’ by the American novelist Henry Miller in an essay.
Brassai’s second work, \’Voluptes de Paris (Pleasures of Paris)\’ was published in 1935, and brought him international fame. In 1956, his film \’Tant qu\’il y aura des betes\’ (‘As long as there are beasts) won the award for Most Original Film at the renowned Cannes Film Festival. He received various honours for his iconic photographs, including the Gold Medal for Photography at the Venice Biennale (1957), the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (1974), and the Chevalier de l\’Ordre de la Legion d\’honneur (1976). In 1978, he received the first Grand Prix National de la Photographie award in Paris.
In 1948, Brassai married a French woman, Gilberte Boyer. After being stateless for many years, he took up French citizenship in 1949 just a year after his marriage. His wife supported him throughout his photography career, by developing negatives in the dark room. The artist passed away at the age of 84 on July 7, 1984, in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Alpes-Maritimes, south of France.
In 2000, around 450 of Brassai’s works were put on display in a retrospective exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, by his widowed wife. His work has been exhibited internationally in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States, and is held in the permanent collections of SFMoMA, San Fransisco; LACMA, Los Angeles; MoMA, New York; and the Pompidou Centre, Paris.