Born Gyula Halász at the turn of the 20th century, the artist Brassai spent much of his adult life in France. He won worldwide acclaim for his photographs of subjects lived on the fringes of society that other photographers passed over.
Brassai was born in a small town that is now part of Romania, buthe only spent a few years there because his family moved to Paris after his father, who taught literature, accepted a job there. Brassai later left Paris to attend the Academy of Fine Arts, and while he studied art, he had problems settling down in one area. Brassai joined the military in his home country but returned to Paris in the late 1910s. While he was working as a writer for a local newspaper, a friend encouraged him to try his hand at photography. After living in Paris continuously for more than twenty years, he became a citizen of France and married Gilberte Boyer just one year later.
Brassai had worked as a journalist for several years before he ever picked up a camera. After a friend suggested he take photographs to accompany his articles, he found that he had a natural talent behind the lens. The artist eventually abandoned his writing to focus entirely on his photography. While working in Paris, Brassai sought out those living on the fringes and those overlooked by other photographers. His photograph Bijoux showcased an older woman covered in jewels and sitting alone at a bar. He also took a number of pictures of women working as prostitutes throughout the city, including the woman seen in Streetwalker near Place D’Italie. The photographer occasionally captured unexpected moments. His piece Paris by Night catches a young woman standing on the street corner and reflecting on her life, while his image Marlene documents a young man pausing in the middle of his bicycle ride and looking at the picture of a movie star. Though Brassai left Paris after Germany gained control of the country, he moved home when he remembered he had left some important negatives behind. As the Nazis banned photography, Brassai began working in other mediums, including sculpture and writing. Later in his life, he published several books of his photographs, worked on an award-winning film, and held several exhibitions. His work continues to inspire other photographers, and his wife continued exhibiting his work after his death.
- Brassai taught himself French by reading books written by French authors.
- His wife Gilberte often worked as his assistant, helping him set up shots and develop his prints.
- His piece Bijoux appeared in the film Titanic, though the director credited a sketch of the piece to one of the main characters.