Ambient artificial light 2 (Brassaï by night)

Gyula Halász, known as Brassaï (1899-1984) by reference to his birthplace, was a Hungarian-French photographer who settled in Paris in 1924 and started photography in 1929 to record his impressions gained on long nocturnal walks. His book ‘Paris de Nuit‘ (Paris by Night) was published in December 1932. (Jeffrey 2008,148)(Ray-Jones 1970)

The images are a mix of haunting outdoor scenes and vibrant interiors of bars and clubs. Showgirls and prostitutes feature large. Lighting of the interiors was supplemented by reflectors and magnesium flash powder (Meltzer 2014) , so it is not truly ambient and I will concentrate on the exterior images.

Brassaï was a pioneer of night-time photography, in an era of slow lenses and slow emulsions. All of his images were considered (and the people in them posed), taken from a tripod and with extended exposure times gauged by how long it takes to smoke a Gauloises, as seen above (Meltzer 2014)

The images start with black to which patches of light are added, visible street lighting, reflections in wet pavements or the Seine. A good proportion use atmospherics to diffuse the point light sources, and Brassaï is not afraid to render his shadows as dense black.

This treatment is diametrically opposed to Schmidt or the early Atget discussed in a previous posting. Brassaï is not particularly interested in the detail of his subject, he is evoking a feeling of the experience of being there. He wants his viewers to be emotionally involved, and he succeeds. I have enjoyed this research element enormously, which is why I have included so many samples; there were none that I could bear to leave out.


Jeffrey, I (2008) How to read a photograph London: Thames & Hudson

Meltzer, S (2014) The piercing eye of Brassaï: the stunning work of a master French photographer [online] at: [accessed 19/8/16]

Ray-Jones, T. (1970) Tony Ray-Jones Interviews Brassai” Pt. I [online] at: [accessed 19/8/16]


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