A Legendary observer of Paris After Dark
Brassaï remains the most legendary and consummate observer of a now vanished world of Paris after dark, a complete witness of Parisian nightlife in the early 1930s. Through his photography, Brassaï would reveal the nocturnal activities of Parisian society by fully immersing himself and gaining access to an underworld of assorted and eccentric characters. Famed writer Henry Miller described Brassaï as
“a living eye…his gaze pierces straight to the heart of truth in everything. Like a falcon, or a shark, we see him quiver and then plunge at reality.”
Brassaï played the role of a kind of sociologist documenting a hidden side of Paris few contemporaries personally knew while also keeping the world alive for posterity. At the same time, he creatively captured it through his astute sense of photographic composition and balance believing
“that the formal structure of a photo was just as important as the subject itself.”
Other than Henri Cartier-Bresson, no other photographer in the 1930s would come to define the imagery of the era as much as Brassaï and his candid photographs of the secret social spheres of Paris.
In order to gain access to the underworld of Paris, Brassaï developed a rapport with his potential subjects putting them at ease, while other times he admits that he paid some of the more potentially violent types in order to gain their cooperation. He would also become a regular fixture at many shady establishments such as the bals-musette that were uniquely Parisian dance halls on the Rue de Lappe near Place de la Bastille. This street was home to over a dozen such dance halls such as La Bastoche and Le Bal des Quatre Saisons that played tangos, jazz, and wild waltzes to oftentimes rowdy crowds.
In Brassaï’s exterior image of La Bastoche, he shows the patrons of the dance hall clustered in front of it under a neon sign that were common on the Rue de Lappe. Brassaï seemingly introduces the location and some of its patrons skillfully capturing the people gazing out across the street differing from the excitement that was surely occurring inside. The woman on the far right would become a frequent subject in his images of the bals-musette with her typical “spit-curl” on her forehead and suspenders holding up her dress. Commonly depicting only the interiors of the bals-musettes, Brassaï offers us a different vision of the unique Parisian establishments. The result is both a portrait of a part of society, and a journey though the Parisian night of the 1930s.