Paris’ City Hall, also known as l’Hôtel de Ville, has had a series of highly popular special exhibits over the past several years. Did I mention that they were free? The latest, BRASSAï, pour l’amour de Paris (poor lamoor duh pairee), which means “for the love of Paris,” runs from now until March 8, 2014. Brassäi, a brilliant photographer, writer, and filmmaker, scoured every nook and cranny of Paris. He photographed the mighty and the nobodies.
Gyulus Halasz was born in 1899 in Transylvania. When he was just four years old, his father, a professor of literature, spent a sabbatical year in Paris. Can you imagine how amazing Paris would have been in 1903, right after the great Exhibition? It’s no wonder that Paris indelibly marked his spirit. After his art studies in Berlin, he moved back to the city he had fallen in love with as a boy. In 1929, be became a photographer and took the name Brassäi.
He became friends with the surrealists who haunted the cafés and restaurants around Montparnasse. From them, he developed a passion for night rambles through Paris in search of graffiti, accompanied by friends such as writers Henry Miller and Jacques Prévert. Along the way, he photographed Parisians who worked at night, swathed in fog rising from the Seine or illuminated by street lamps.
Another friend was Picasso. While Brassäi was still a young photographer, Picasso asked him to photograph his sculptures for an art review. The two artists discovered shared passions and points of view, including the circus.
Another series of photographs focused on one of my favorite hang-outs, the Jardin du Luxembourg: balloon merchants, ice cream vendors, and even an anonymous photographer caught in the viewfinder of one who became world famous.
No matter where you look in this exhibit, you’ll see Paris as it no longer is, as it still is, and as it will be forever. The exhibit is open every day except Sunday, from 10 am until 7 pm.