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Paris from Notre Dame (circa 1933), Brassaï


 

       

EYE of the VAMPIRE

 
 

Brassaï's Paris de Nuit

   

 

What better way to spend an hour in the middle of the workday than to immerse oneself in the crepuscular light of ‘30s Paris by dropping in at the ICP at lunchtime to take in the must-see Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography, and Paris.  On the cover of the accompanying catalogue is Brassaï‘s Paris from Notre Dame—a night-scene of Paris, taken from the top of the cathedral,  gargoyles watching over the city.

 

This photograph doesn’t actually appear in Brassaï ‘s classic Paris de Nuit, now a collector’s item, 60 black and white photographs, with text by Paul Morand, which begins with the lovely line that opens up the night to all its possibilities—La nuit n’est pas le négatif du jourthe night is not the the negative of the day.  Born Gyula Halász, Brassaï was born in Transylvania and took the name of Brassaï (from Brasso); Henry Miller called him the ‘eye of Paris’ and said of him: “...perhaps the difference which I observe between the work of Brassaï and that of other photographers lies in this – that Brassaï seems overwhelmed by the fullness of life...”  What a beautiful idea we thought, are the best artists the ones who have their fingers on the pulse of the ecstatic?  He was also called the ‘man of the night,’ this Transylvanian who ventured out like some vampire, feeding on the city’s nocturnal landscape.  In Paris de Nuit there is a dark romanticism, an element of danger, a gothic and ghostly poetry.  Brassaï said, like a true vampire: "Night suggests, but it does not show.  It frees the forces in us that, during the day, are subdued by reason."

 

Andre Kertesz, Eiffel Tower, 1929

 

The show also has photographs by the usual suspects—Andre Kertesz, Ilse Bing, Man Ray.... Surrealism—the literary and artistic movement that attempted to capture some hidden or deeper reality, and here, in these photographs, Paris is the evocative subject, exaltation lurking beneath the ordinary, puddles on a pavement, or in the Eiffel Tower’s shadow....  These surrealist photographers (from the late 20’s to the Second World War) turned their lenses on people, buildings, and monuments.  A city that was an artistic Mecca as well; Kertesz was Hungarian, Bing was German, Man Ray was American....

 

Writing a century earlier in Notre Dame de Paris, in his love letter to the cathedral and to the city, Victor Hugo called the creatures that stood guard over the city: “...fantastically carved stone gargoyles which bristle all over Gothic buildings....” and one realizes that these gargoyles have watched Paris changing from the medieval city Hugo describes to the city it is today, and perhaps Brassaï who bribed his way up to the gargoyles at night to take his picture, in doing what photographers do, capturing the ephemeral moment, somehow captured eternity as well . . . eye of the vampire indeed . . . . 

 

 

See: Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography, and Paris @ICP

 

Read: Paris de Nuit, 60 photographs by Brassai, text by Paul Morand, a collector's item

 

Tags: paris  surrealism  photography 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Notre Dame, 1933, Brassaï (from Pari
s de Nuit)

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