Known since 1932 by his pseudonym Brassai (derived from Brasso, his place of birth), Gyula Halász came to photography through self-education. He first studied art in Budapest and Berlin and soon he was active in circles that included Lászlo Moholy-Nagy and Wassily Kandinsky. In 1924 he went to Paris as a journalist. There he became acquainted with Eugène Atget in 1925, whose work was to become a constant model for his later work. A year later he met his compatriot André Kertész, whom he often accompanied on assignments and whose photographs he occasionally used for the documentation of his own work. In 1929 Brassai borrowed a camera and made his very first photographs, and soon afterwards he decided to purchase his own Voigtländer camera. During his extended wanderings through nighttime Paris, Brassai began, in 1930, to record the deserted streets and squares of the city. The results of this work were published in 1932 in his famous book “Paris de Nuit.”
Aside from the aesthetic fascination of the mysterious and stage-set-like architecture, the photographer also experienced the technical challenge posed by the extreme lighting conditions for his nighttime photographs. During these nightly sojourns, Brassai was also fascinated by the activities of society. In the bars and in the streets he recorded the night owls of the city, photographing tramps, prostiutes, lovers, dancers, and other colorful figures. In 1932 Brassai discovered graffiti on the walls of Paris, and he covered this subject for many years to come. Through his contributions to the Surrealist magazine “Minotaure” during the thirties, Brassai became acquainted with many writers, poets, and artists of Surrealism. He began to work for Harper’s Bazaar in 1937, and he supplied that magazine with many photographic essays about famous literary personalities and artists. In 1962 Brassai gave up photography altogether after the death of the magazine’s publisher Carmel Snow. From then on he kept busy making new prints of his photographs and new editions of his earlier books.