Brassai was the pseudonym of Gyula Halász (1899-1984), a Parisian photographer.
Gyula Halász was born on September 9, 1899, in Brassó (Braăov), then part of Hungary but today it belongs to Romania. At age three, his family moved to live in Paris, France for a year while his father, a Professor of Literature, taught at the Sorbonne. As a young man, Gyula Halász studied painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest before joining a cavalry regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army, serving until the end of the First World War. In 1920 Halász went to Berlin where he worked as a journalist and studied at the Berlin-Charlottenburg Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1924 he moved to Paris where he would live the rest of his life. In order to learn the French language, he began teaching himself by reading the works of Marcel Proust. Living amongst the huge gathering of artists in the Montparnasse Quarter, he took a job as a journalist. He soon became friends with Henry Miller, Léon-Paul Fargue, and the poet Jacques Prévert.
Gyula Halász's job and his love of the city, whose streets he often wandered late at night, led to photography. He later wrote that photography allowed him to seize the Paris night and the beauty of the streets and gardens, in rain and mist. Using the name of his birthplace, Gyula Halász went by the pseudonym "Brassaď," which means "from Brasso." As Brassaď, he captured the essence of the city in his photographs, publishing his first book of photographs in 1933 titled Paris after Dark. His efforts met with great success, resulting in him being called "the eye of Paris" in an essay by his friend Henry Miller. In addition to photos of the seedier side of Paris, he also provided scenes from the life of the city's high society, its intellectuals, its ballet, and the grand operas. He photographed many of his great artist friends, including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, plus many of the prominent writers of his time such as Jean Genet, Henri Michaux and others.
Brassaď's photographs brought him international fame leading to a one-man show in the United States at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois, and at New York City's Museum of Modern Art.
In 1956, his film, Tant qu'il aura des bętes, won the "Most Original Film" award at the Cannes Film Festival and in 1974 he was named "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres" and given the Legion of Honor in 1976. Two years later, in 1978, he won the first "Grand Prix National de la Photographie" in Paris.
As well as a photographer, Brassaď was the author of seventeen books and numerous articles, including the 1948 novel Histoire de Marie, which was published with an introduction by Henry Miller. His Letters to My Parents and Conversations with Picasso, have been translated into English and published by the University of Chicago Press.
Considered by all as one of the great photographers of the 20th century, Gyula Halász died on July 8, 1984 in Eze, Alpes-Maritimes, in the south of France and was interred in the Cimetičre du Montparnasse in Paris.
In 2000, an exhibition of some 450 works by Brassaď was organized with the help of his widow, Gilberte at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.