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November 26, 2012
The Noir Photos of Brassai
I stumbled across this guy on a routine Internet drunken stumble (not really drunk but aimless and time-wasting). He was a Hungarian named Gyula Halász who came to Paris in the 30s to be a journalist. He wound up discovering his pictures of foggy, haunted nighttime Paris were more interesting than his articles and so tried his hand at that. (He also seems to have been a painter and sculptor but gave those up in favor of night photography.) He changed his name to "Brassai" because it had more letters in common with "Batman." Not really, but you'll see why I made that tiny joke.
I saw two interesting details about him. He liked taking long-depth pictures but didn't like that photography rendered distant objects out of focus, so he shot on foggy nights to disguise that. (Wouldn't that make it worse? I don't know, just telling you what I Saw On The Internet.) The other interesting thing was that night photography, in deep focus, requires long exposure times, but that's not the interesting part.
The interesting part is that he had a timing system worked out, depending on the type of shot, where he'd time the exposure by cigarette. A long exposure would get an American cigarette, while a short one would get a French Gauloise:
"Une gauloise pour une certaine lumiere, une boyard s'il faisait plus sombre" (a Boyard is thicker than a Gauloise, thus takes longer to burn) therefore "[t]he cigarette is not a cigarette but a clock."
That's pretty much all I know about him except for the fact that his photographs are pretty arresting.
This is my favorite, I think, just because of the vantage and deep focus.
Some police outside a police station; I Saw on The Internet that this was/is the oldest police station in Paris. I have no idea if it still exists.
A woman standing outside a cheese shop. Now, given the fact he took a lot of pictures of les filles des cooches (this is an old French expression I just made up to see if I could sneak it past anybody), and I don't see why this woman should be standing under a streetlight at night, I'm going to guess she's a prostitute, but I have no idea.
I like this guy because every picture he takes, it seems like something is about to happen.
A gargoyle on the cathedral of Notre Dame. This is actually a detail of a picture showing more skyline, which I'll post next.
I know there's a word for these pillars on which people affix handbills but it escapes me. Anyway, a very dramatic photo, even though nothing really is happening. It just seems like something's happening.
I like the rooftop shots.
I'll call this one "The Witnesses."
One of those steep stairs, like in Montmartre or somewhere. I call this one "Prelude to Murder."
I call this "Ransom Delivery."
I call that "Night of the Fugitives."
And finally, uh, "Last Stop at Blood Station:"
If you want more, google for "Brassai" and either "Paris Night" or "Paris Nuit." There's a coffee-table book containing most of the pictures I posted (but I don't think it has that first one, the "4 Etages" one), available on Amazon, of course, or most places.
The first link I liked above has a YouTube video of a bunch of his pictures; like I said, he photographed a lot of prostitutes at hotels des cooches, so expect to see some boobies and flapper-ass.
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