B rassaï was born Gyula Halá sz in Brasso, Transylvania, now Brasov, Romania, on 9 September 1899. His father was a professor of French literature at Brasov University, and Halasz was brought up in an academic, comfortable environment. He studied at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, before being drafted into the cavalry regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. After the war, he began a career in journalism and publishing.
In 1924, Halasz moved to work in Paris and he quickly fell into a Bohemian circle of artists, writers and photographers. In particular, he became friendly with the Hungarian, André Kerté sz, who tutored him. By 1929, Halasz was taking regular photographs and began to specialise in night photography, a practice that had become popular in Paris at the time. He would wander the streets at night, photographing the people and buildings that he came across, often with an overtly Surrealist approach. By 1932, he had adopted the pseudonym Brassaï , meaning from Brasso in his native tongue, and had taken up photography as his principal occupation.
Brassaï seemed to have a natural affinity with Paris, revelling in its rich atmosphere and photographic potential. In 1933, he published his first book, Paris De Nuit , which was met with critical and popular acclaim.
Brassaï’ s photographs from the 1930s show prostitutes, down and outs, drinkers, pimps and other inhabitants of the night all taken in poor light, and filled with brooding atmosphere and implied narratives. Later in the decade, he added further to this repertoire by focussing on the city’ s graffiti the subject of a solo exhibition at New York’ s Museum of Modern Art in 1957. However, he also photographed the more respectable sections of Paris society - its writers, artists, intellectuals, operas and ballets.
In 1935 he joined the Rapho photographic agency, and quickly became world-famous for his images of Paris a city that seemed the centre of all things artistic during the inter-war period. He was also a prolific writer, a film-maker and a sculptor.
Brassaï died in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France, on 8 July 1984.