Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Reading List…Brassai, The Secret Paris of the 30s

I’ve always been aware of Brassai’s work, but it never really struck me until I picked up this book at the Strand a few weeks ago.


Wow– the more you look at an image, the more little details are revealed. The style, the atomsphere, and the special moments that were underground Paris in the 30s are all present in this book.  What also makes it really special is that Brassai wrote most all of the text, so you really get a feeling for what was happening when he was taking the shot. This book might be hard to find at a bookshop but should be pretty easy on Ebay.

I love the high shirt sleeve roll in the top two images.  I don’t think Brassai was trying to shoot “style” but he had a great instinctual eye for it.


For me, his underground dive bar scene shots really set the standard for how to capture the nightime scene.



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  1. Fashionum

    January 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Um…Beautiful shots. I love these vintage years. Perfect outfits, perfect fit, absolutely stunning in every way. Just outstanding…


  2. Elena

    January 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    So much details in each photo… can’t stop looking…

  3. Bruno

    January 10, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Re. the first picture you’re right Brassai was probably not trying to shoot “style”…but French writer Jean Genet.

  4. Gervaise

    January 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    But… The first one seems to be the writer Jean Genet, isn’t it?

  5. Meredith

    January 10, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    These are very interesting photos. I love the history that you feel just looking at them.

    - Meredith

  6. IRENE

    January 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    vintage! love that papillion!
    love ur work also more lately



  7. Alexis Forte

    January 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    all these images are fantastic! I adore the mirror effect of the final scene, the contrast of the expressions in the forefront against the ones echoed in the mirror is a priceless moment

  8. Marcel Da Chump

    January 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    That’s the writer Jean Genet in the top picture.
    One can find some of Brassai’s work at the Masters of Photography website.

  9. f

    January 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    brassai is amazing! always fantastic composition and subjects…

  10. MAIALA

    January 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Ahhhh. Paris, Je t’aime.
    I’m sure Garance would agree? xx

    Twitter: @Mai_ala

  11. Stylosophism

    January 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    The Real “Midnight in Paris” iconography…


  12. Liam

    January 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    The woman on the right in the fourth picture down is Violette Morris, an athlete who later collaborated with the Gestapo, aiding in the Nazi’s invasion of Paris and the torture of female prisoners, just FYI.

  13. ladyofletters

    January 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    @Bruno: that’s Genet? Awesome! Style goes without saying. Very stylish vagabond thief!

  14. Cristián Pavez Díaz

    January 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I think he also managed to get the mood of a flourishing time between wars. Very nice photos! They need no explanation at all!

    Greetings from Santiago, Chile.

    @cristianpavezd on Twitter.

  15. Leonie

    January 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    These pictures are amazing. I am always intrigued by pictures from the past. It is interesting to see what the people looked like, how they acted when the photograph was taken. I think that Brassai captured the atmosphere in these moments very beautifully.

    Hooked On Floral

  16. Eryl Shields

    January 10, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    It’s available on Amazon for not very much at all. I’ve just ordered it, such is your power.

  17. Stylefootprints

    January 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Looks really cool. Love looking at this sort of thing.

    If you like them kind of books, I’d recommend the book’ where we’re you’. My friends uncle released it just before Xmas. It shows the style and pop culture in Dublin from the 50s through to 2000 through pictures, ads and concert tickets etc. it’s very cool…check it out.


  18. Carla Magalhaes

    January 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    For Sartorialist’s brazilian readers: I’ve bought the book last year by internet from Livraria Cultura. They sell in the stores too. And they send to some countries. It’s really wonderful. Delicate and strong at the same time. XoXo!

  19. anonymous

    January 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I’ve always loved black and white photos, especially of people. Seems to take them outside of time in a way, and make them seem fresh in a way that color doesn’t. I see old sepia photos of people and they look… odd, but black and white, and they could be people on the street today. Of course, that’s because of the technology. I love seeing what you’re looking at.

  20. cecily

    January 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    One of the fascinating things about Brassai’s photographs is that the subjects are responding and reacting to someone other than the photographer (sauf le portrait de M. Genet). The idea of space is very much apparent in his photos. The first one (after the portrait) has interior depth, the second has background depth, the third more depth of foreground, and the last is almost cinematographic; there’s something zoetropic about it. You get action, and reaction within the reflection in the mirror. I don’t think Brassai is as much about style as he is about essence and moment.

  21. Cassandra

    January 10, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    ugh. Paris. I miss you. Brassai is so good. Will keep a lookout for the book. Thanks for the tip!


  22. Ginger

    January 10, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Positively OBSESSED with Paris between the wars…when you start to realize how much was happening then, and who was there…artists, writers, singers, dancers…Picasso, Chagall, Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, Man Ray, Hemingway for Pete’s sake…a list so long, the mind reels. Brassai captured it down to its essence…

  23. clara turbay

    January 10, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I love every image!

  24. justine

    January 10, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    this represents the best of everything, ever. thanks for sharing, I will certainly pick this book up!

  25. Lauren

    January 10, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Fabulous! I will definitely look for this book on Ebay.

    The Styleseer

  26. Charlie

    January 10, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    I love the pictures. Though I am sue the beauty of the first picture is just that it was captured. It just ‘is’. It is in to way contrived; no particular sleeve action, no new posture, not smoking just for effect as it were an advert. Isn’t it just a great moment with an engaging man? Surely that’s enough? It is for me.

  27. Ladyofletters

    January 11, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Awesome, thanks. Now your writing has style as well. xx

  28. Erica

    January 11, 2012 at 12:53 am

    The first picture made me think of Jean Genet. Thank you for timely and powerful work.

  29. Carter

    January 11, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Many thanks to Liam for pointing Violette Morris in #4. This is one of Brassai’s most iconic images but I have never known of the deeper meaning of that photograph. There is more information available online on Morris.

  30. Fiend's Brave victim

    January 11, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Sir! You missed the shot of the prostitute playing billiards, one of the most glorious and compositionally clever portrait photographs of all time:


    Keep up the good work, best regards.

  31. Nora

    January 11, 2012 at 1:56 am

    He was Hungarian. I am proud!

  32. Paul

    January 11, 2012 at 2:38 am

    That first pic looks like Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.

  33. Mica

    January 11, 2012 at 4:41 am

    Love seeing vintage images, everyone looks so stylish! :) Thanks for sharing :)


  34. Giulio

    January 11, 2012 at 6:07 am


  35. Roseanne

    January 11, 2012 at 6:13 am

    This is really cool.I am naturally drawn to anything that is old especially photos and clothes

  36. JaneG

    January 11, 2012 at 6:51 am

    This book is fabulous. I bought my copy in the late 70′s and still have it and look through it on occasion. The writing is as compelling as the photographs. Style, street scenes, demi-monde – such beautiful images!

  37. brian

    January 11, 2012 at 7:23 am

    bowties are so fratty.. i’m a fan

  38. CBC

    January 11, 2012 at 8:08 am

    In the late 70′s my x french boyfriend took me to Le Marnaque…. Brassi took many photos there i think the late one u posted is one……It later became a tourist spot…….why I am a fan of Brassi is the mood he captured of that time in Paris

  39. Jice

    January 11, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Another astonishing black & white study of a particular place and time is William Klein’s Rome. Everyone’s there: Fellini, Moravia, Rosselini, street urchins and models.

  40. Karina

    January 11, 2012 at 9:17 am

    one of my favorite artists. got a couple of Taschen books with his stuff. good educational post, Mr. Schuman

  41. Jennifer

    January 11, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I love the bow tie on the young man – so stylish, I wish they made them like that now!

  42. Danielle

    January 11, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I absolutely LOVE that book…snagged it at the library a few months ago and renewed as long as I could…

  43. Richard

    January 11, 2012 at 11:07 am

    That is indeed a lovely book, and sought after now.
    You can at least get most of these pictures in the TASCHEN edition Brassai Paris isbn 9783836503891

  44. thetravelingheart

    January 11, 2012 at 11:12 am

    sounds enchanting!

  45. Guy Bannis

    January 11, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Brassai’s book is easy to find. Just go to an online bookstore, for one.

  46. Alda Mori

    January 11, 2012 at 11:59 am


    I really like Brassai’s pictures. I am also a huge fan of Kertesz.
    They are really inspiring for anyone who would like to learn the art of photography.

    Thanks for this post!


  47. juanita

    January 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    I think No. 3 down must be a girl in drag – not that it’s a problem!

  48. juanita

    January 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Love the 2 women in picture No. 4 xx In particular love the ‘mans’ finger nails x

  49. london camille

    January 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    you are right, love the underground dive bar shots. so awesome. thanks for sharing!
    -london camille

  50. kathryn

    January 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm


  51. erhardt.gergo

    January 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I’m one of Your hungarian followers, who reads your blog every day for 3 years. (: And now i’m really impressed that you’ve found your love in photography and fashion in his pictures, even if it was hard for You. Thanks for your personal impression! (:

  52. Name*JRogers

    January 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    The top photograph is of radical writer/poet Jean Genet.

  53. Annemarie Strassel

    January 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    As a side note, among the many hats that Brassai wore (so to speak), he was a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar.

  54. allison

    January 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    I first saw that picture of Genet in another book 15 yrs ago and it has haunted me ever since. It represents the very definition of timeless chic.

  55. Andrew

    January 13, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Gobsmacked that this seminal work has only just been revealed to you. It is breathtaking in its originality and daring. Every street-style-shooter should study this man’s work and this book closely. It’s a total revelation.

  56. M.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:42 am

    You don’t need to buy the book. Go to a big library. I love to spend time alone looking through picture books, whether art of photography.

  57. Yvonne Bauer

    January 13, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Hungarian photographers like Brassai, Kertész or Robert Capa created amazing things in Paris in the twenties, thirties and onward… Brassai was certainly one of the best.

  58. John

    January 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    On the first pic: Jean Genet, a rebellious mind at its best at that time! To those who could afford it, I would advise to take a look into his writings to understand what I am getting at!

  59. jasmin heatherly

    January 31, 2012 at 11:49 am

    The more you look at these photos, your mind tries to understand the significance of what brassai saw in these hard working men ? There faces are not of obvious expression but of intrigue to the spectator… tooo deep for any man to understand !

  60. Irina

    February 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

    @Nora, actually, he was romanian. His pseudonym comes from ‘Brassó’ which is the hungarian name for Brasov, his birthplace, which is a romanian town from the region of Transylvania. This is a historical region in the central part of Romania that was under the rule of Austria-Hungary until the ethnic Romanian majority proclaimed Union with the Kingdom of Romania on December 1, 1918.
    He did study painting and sculpture at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest.

  61. Boulevardier

    March 21, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I have loved Brassaï’s work since I discovered Secret Paris of the 30′s while an art student in the 80s… So many more photos that could be included on this page!

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