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Brassai. Paris (Taschen 25th Anniversary Special Editins) Hardcover – Special Edition, 7 Mar 2008
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Atget was by far the older of the two and died in 1927 at 70 years of age and Brassai, born in 1908 in what is now Romania, did not actually arrive in France until 1924 and Paris a few years later. There are obvious differences in the two photographers' techniques due mainly to differences in their periods of activity and the equipment and materials then available to them. Atget was slightly limited by those of his day, but Brassai much less and able in later life to use some very capable materials and equipment. Brassai lived until 2004, by which time Paris had been through yet another war, an Occupation and a long recovery period during which it gradually evolved from what it had been in Atget's day to largely what it is today. The changes were many and some of Brassai's favourite haunts of old had by then long disappeared.
There is some similarity in elements of their photography but Atget was mostly fascinated by the ordinary, everyday life of his city, often as not by an individual in its streets and Brassai's attention was largely drawn to groups and the unusual or hidden, sometimes criminal, secret, salacious or socially necessary but unspeakable activities of life in the city.
Brassai had spent a lot of his time in an area called Les Halles which officially was the location of Paris' wholesale food markets, until its businesses gradually relocated from Central Paris during the late 50s and early 60s, but took on a wholly different character once the markets had closed for the day. After hours, it became home to unlicensed clubs and the haunts of gangs, criminals and those seeking one nefarious activity or another. Brassai photographed pretty much everything from when he first encountered the area until it disappeared. There are other books with Brassai's photography of Paris that cover much of that period in and around Les Halles and others with its broader nightlife. One was published by Thames and Hudson and can sometimes be found although first published several years ago. Some of the images seen here are either identical or very similar to some in that book, but not that many.
Although Brassai is perhaps best known for his candid style, often in the streets but also in clubs and bars, there are some images here that I would not, without a label or other information, ascribe to Brassai. There are a few still-lifes and a similar number of classic nudes, which are very much 'art photography' and not what I would have expected of Brassai. The variety of images is far wider than I would have expected and that is an unexpected joy. The images, of which there are many, are printed in a slightly warm but still neutral tone rather than the much warmer dark sepia or plum-brown of some of the other Brassai titles I own. The size of the pages allows a greater scale than I have previously seen many of more familiar of its images, some of which are printed edge to edge and to good advantage, although I had seen a small number on a much larger, exhibition, scale. Some of the imagery shows a side of Paris which few would have known and may surprise the reader with its openness despite the personal nature of the events and situations portrayed.
Both books mentioned here and published by Taschen are excellent, but essentially different. In any event, both photographers were masters in their day. Neither book is overly expensive. If you have an interest in vintage photography or simply in Paris, it may be worthwhile buying both. If your photographic preferences are for the more modern, then Brassai's is the natural choice, as it will be if image size is important. In terms of quality, there is little to choose between the two.
With Taschen titles, you will find excellent printing quality and attention paid to presenting the imagery to the highest possible standards and as close to the original as is possible. The only issue with Taschen, and it is a minor one, is that they are a German publisher who also publishes in French, English and sometimes other Western European languages. You may therefore find that some titles are multi-lingual, as is this one, or one whose language is other than you would wish. However, Taschen's books mostly rely primarily on their pictorial content and the text is then secondary and usually quite minimal. The imagery should speak for itself and I don't therefore have a major problem if I were to find a non-English title.
This book is very enjoyable, the reproductions are very good and the insights into the life and times of the man are rewarding. Thoroughly recommended.
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