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America through the lens of Brassaï

Though famous for his post-WWI photos of Paris by night, it is Franco-Hungarian photographer Brassaï’s [née Gyula Halász] photos of mid-century America that grace the latest exhibition of his work, currently on view in the south of France at Montpelier’s Pavillon Populaire: Brassaï en Amérique.  Discouraged from setting foot on American soil by close friend and ex-pat Henry Miller, who purportedly described the USA as “hostile, close-minded, and pitiless for the weak,” and in spite of regular features in Harper’s Bazaar and works exhibited at New York’s MoMa throughout the 30s, 40s and early 50s, 1957 was the year Brassaï finally arrived in the states, on assignment for Holiday magazine.

Given carte blanche, the only requirement imposed by the magazine was that he shoot photos in New York and Louisiana, in color– a first for the photographer (though it must be noted he shot in black and white as well).  Agnès de Gouvion Saint Cyr, former Directer of Photography at the Ministry of Culture & Communication in France, later discovered these totally unknown color slides in his archives, which now comprise the exhibition and a book of the same name.

Wildly different from his stark, often posed images of Paris, Brassaï’s visual account of 50s-era America captures a country in rapid growth, whilst pioneering a certain form of almost-surrealist street photography later made famous by photographers like Diane Arbus.

Through October 30th at Montpelier’s Pavillion Populaire.


New York, 1957 © Estate Brassaï


New York, 1957 © Estate Brassaï


Greenwich Village, New York 1957 © Estate Brassaï


New York, 1957 © Estate Brassaï


New York, 1957 © Estate Brassaï


New York, 1957 © Estate Brassaï


New York, 1957 © Estate Brassaï


Easter parade, New York 1957 © Estate Brassaï


Grand Central Station, New York 1957 © Estate Brassaï

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