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In conjunction with the Brassaï retrospective on view at Amsterdam’s Fotografiemuseum through December 4, 2019, Blind analyzes an image by the iconoclastic photographer of Parisian life.

Nestled in the corner of a Parisian cafe that we can imagine is bustling with noise an activity, these two lovers look into each other’s eyes with a gaze both passionate and challenging. We owe this quintessential image of Parisian lovers embracing during the jubilation of the inter-war period (1932) to Romanian photographer Brassaï. A multifaceted artist associated with the Parisian avant-garde and humanist photography, Brassaï produced here one of the most mythical images of the period, which sparked the collective imagination all on its own.

Two Lovers in a Paris Café, Place d’Italie, circa 1932 © Brassaï

While it remains evocative of its context to this day, the importance of such a photograph is due to the precision and the subtlety with which Brassaï constructed it, for all the flirting and the ambiguity between the lovers are revealed in each stratum of the image. Each detail, each element of composition, each attitude, have been carefully orchestrated by the photographer, so that the scene is gloriously revealed to the viewer while leaving a slight doubt in his mind. This is the genius of Brassaï, who made a name for himself that same year with the publication of Paris de Nuit [Paris By Night], which earned him the nickname “The Eye of Paris” (H. Miller).

From a scene that was set up and staged, the photographer creates a real moment of life that makes one breathlessly want to know how the love story ends. Like The Kiss by painter Gustav Klimt (1908-1909), in the couple’s gaze and in the theatricality of their postures there is an ill-defined gap between erotic tension and constraint. Each element of the set anchors this image in naturalistic accuracy, which manages to make us forget that the whole thing was staged. Lastly, the use of the two mirrors, each reflecting one of the couple’s gazes, gives us a 360-degree view of the romantic exchange. Boldly extending beyond the limits of what the camera can record, Brassaï reconstructs in a single snapshot an entire sentimental and Parisian universe. A timeless representation of love.

By Anne Laurens


September 13 – December 4, 2019

FoAM, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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