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Hungarian photographer, sculptor, writer, and filmmaker Brassai. During the 1930s, he became well-known for his work on Paris nightlife. Brassai would frequently roam through Paris’s dark and famed alleyways and cafés, which really attracted him and inspired him to consider photography as a serious vocation, despite his distaste for it during his early years as a journalist. Thanks to his classic and dramatic street images taken during the empty hours of ‘The City of Light,’ either at night or during fog, a state that was rare during that era, he became one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. He was one of many Hungarian artists who showcased their talent and climbed to international prominence, first in France and then throughout the world, when most Hungarian artists immigrated to Paris during the World Wars. Apart from being a well-known photographer, he also excelled as a sculptor, writer, and filmmaker, winning awards in each of these fields. This French artist, who was born in Hungary, published two photo books that became masterpieces of his extraordinary work. He also wrote a great number of French-language books and articles that were later translated and published in English.

Childhood and Adolescence

Brassai was born on September 9, 1899, to a Hungarian father and an Armenian mother in Brasso (Brasov), Transylvania, Austria-Hungary (now Romania).
When he was three years old, his family moved to Paris, where his father worked as a French literature professor at the Sorbonne.

He studied painting and sculpting at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, after which he fought in the Austro-Hungarian army’s cavalry regiment during World War I.

The Career of Brassai

In 1920, he moved to Berlin to work as a journalist for the Hungarian newspapers Keleti and Naples. During this time, he enrolled in the Berlin-Charlottenburg Academy of Fine Arts to further his education.

At the academy, he befriended Lajos Tihanyi, Bertalan Por, and Gyorgy Boloni, who eventually went to Paris and became well-known in the Hungarian art scene.
In 1924, he returned to Paris and lived there for the remainder of his life, pursuing his passions for painting, sculpting, photography, and journalism.

While living among artists in the Montparnasse Quarter, he began reading Marcel Proust’s books to master the French language and became a journalist to support himself.

He made acquaintances with writers Henry Miller, Leon-Paul Fargue, and Jacques Prevert, all of whom had a significant impact on his career and life.

Despite his dislike for photography, he was forced to utilize it in his journalistic tasks, and it was only when he began strolling the lonely streets of Paris at night, admiring its pristine beauty, that he became interested.

The tawdry assemblage of prostitutes, rag pickers, Apaches, madams, transvestites, petty criminals, and street cleaners piqued his interest to the point where he began photographing the city’s essence.

On the canvas, he depicted a number of his artist colleagues and well-known writers, such as Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali, Jean Genet, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Michaux, to name a few.
Apart from the gloomy side of city life, his images highlighted the lighter side, such as ballet, major operas, high society, and intellectuals.

He quickly became well-known within the Hungarian community in Paris, and he continued to work as a commercial photographer, particularly for the American magazine ‘Harper’s Bazaar.’

He was a founder member of the Rapho agency, which was founded by Charles Rado in Paris in 1933.
During 1943-45, he focused on sketching, sculpting, and poetry, abandoning photography owing to German penetration. He returned to it in the late 1960s, producing magazines for publications such as ‘Picture Post,’ ‘Verve,’ and ‘Minotaur.’

In 1946, he published his first book of drawings, ‘Trente dessins’ (Thirty Drawings), which included a poem by Jacques Prevert, a French poet.

His sculptures were shown in an exclusive exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1948. They were later shown in the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.
After he ceased taking photographs in 1961, he began sculpting figures in stone and bronze, which contained designs taken from his collection.

‘Histoire de Marie’ (1948), ‘Henry Miller, grandeur nature’ (Henry Miller: The Paris Years, 1975), ‘The Secret Paris of the Thirties’ (1976), and ‘Artists of My Life’ were among his 17 books and essays (1982).

The University of Chicago Press released his article ‘Letter to My Parents’ and book ‘Conversations with Picasso’ in 1997 and 1999, respectively.

Brassai’s Major Projects

In 1933, he produced his first collection of images, “Paris de nuit” (Paris by Night), which was hailed as a masterpiece for uncovering the city’s hidden secrets and earned him the moniker “the eye of Paris” from Henry Miller.

His second book, ‘Voluptes de Paris’ (Pleasures of Paris), was published in 1935 and received critical praise around the world.

Achievements & Awards

In 1956, his film “Tant qu’il y aura des bites” won the prize for Most Original Film at the renowned Cannes Film Festival.

He was awarded the Gold Medal for Photography at the Venice Biennale (1957), the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (1974), and the Chevalier de l’Order de la Legion d’honneur for his cult works of photography (1976).
He received the first Grand Prix National de la Photographie prize in Paris in 1978.

Personal History and Legacy

After marrying Gilberte Boyer, a French woman, in 1948, he became a French citizen in 1949, after being stateless for several years. His wife assisted him in processing negatives in the darkroom and explaining his subjects and personalities throughout his photography career.

He died on July 7, 1984, at the age of 84, in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Alpes-Maritimes, in the south of France. He was buried in Paris’s Cimetiere du Montparnasse.

Gilberte, his widow, exhibited roughly 450 of his pieces in a retrospective exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 2000.

Estimated Net worth

Tseng Kwong Chi is one of the wealthiest photographers and one of the most popular. Tseng Kwong Chi’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million.


During the period when he used to capture the beauty of Paris’ nightlife, he adopted the moniker Brassai after his hometown, which literally means “someone from Brasov.”