Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paris by Night - Brassaï (1933)


In 1933, the photographer Brassaï (real name Gyula Halász, 1899–1984) published Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night), a remarkable photographic record of his wanderings through the night time city in the company of, among others, Henry Miller, Raymond Queneau and Jacques Prevert. The book was reprinted with the photographer's commentary in 1976, in which he sets out his perspective on the nocturnal underground of the city:

'Just as night birds and nocturnal animals bring a forest to life when its daytime fauna fall silent and go to ground, so night in a large city brings out of its den an entire population that lives its life completely under cover of darkness. Some once-familiar figures in the army of night workers have disappeared…

The real night people, however, live at night not out of necessity, but because they want to. They belong to the world of pleasure, of love, vice, crime, drugs. A secret, suspicious world, closed to the uninitiated. Go at random into one of those seemingly ordinary bars in Montmartre, or into a dive in the Goutte d’Or neighbourhood. Nothing to show they are owned by clans of pimps, that they are often the scenes of bloody reckonings. Conversation ceases. The owner looks you over with a friendly glance. The clientele sizes you up: this intruder, this newcomer – is he an informer, a stool pigeon? Has he come in to blow the gig, to squeal? You may not be served, you may even be asked to leave, especially if you try to take pictures…

And yet, drawn by the beauty of evil, the magic of the lower depths, having taken pictures for my ‘voyage to the end of the night’ from the outside, I wanted to know what went on inside, behind the walls, behind the facades , in the wings: bars, dives, night clubs, one-night hotels, bordellos, opium dens. I was eager to penetrate the other world, this fringe world, the secret, sinister world of mobsters, outcasts, toughs, pimps, whores, addicts, inverts. Rightly or wrongly, I felt at the time that this underground world represented Paris at its least cosmopolitan, at its most alive, its most authentic, that in these colourful faces of its underworld there had been preserved, from age to age, almost without alteration, the folklore of its most remote past’

The book includes photos and descriptions of people socialising and dancing in bars, shows and lesbian and gay clubs - I will feature some more of this later.

These photos were taken at La Bastoche, a bar in Rue de Lappe, in 1932. Gotta love those kiss curls.



I believe the book is still in print, at least it's available from all the usual book sites. If you are interested in nightlife, dancing, photography, social history and alternative cultures you should take a look - and let's face it if you are looking at this site you must be interested in at least a couple of these...

2 comments:

Free_Mind301 said...

Do you know if it's possible to buy a print of either of these remarkable photos? I am in love with them both!

Thomas James Thorstensson said...

“All I wanted to express was reality, for noting is more surreal” (George Brassaï)
http://thomasthorstensson.photography/brassai-paris-night/