Published  18/03/2001

Brassai in Paris, Hayward Gallery, 2001

BRASSAI IN PARIS, Hayward Gallery London SE1 through May 13

   Gyula Halasz was his real name. The Transylvanian was a photographer par excellence, yet curiously secretive. He was also , like other Transylvanians, something of a night bird, stalking the banks of the Seine, to catch couples, or individual nudes, or nodding vagrants more or less intact with his bulky Voigtlander. Paris, secretively by night in the l930s, so turned out to be a superbly historical documentation, without celebrities to spoil its magnetic manipulation of glass negative and aperture. It is useful to compare Brassai’s Paris of the people, pimps and whores, petty criminals pre-Belmondo, with Caravaggio’s Rome- so fortuitously accessible together in London this spring. Caravaggio had to stage his set-pieces, and it is no surprise to see Brassai did the same, street lamps, railings, statuesque monuments, and citizenry realer than real, and with a bonus inconceivable in Caravaggio’s time, graffiti galore. Brassai’s book The Secret Paris of the 30’s is being reissued appropriately by Thames and Hudson,the publishers.

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