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To JAN. 16, 2000
Before going to see “Brassai: The Eye of Paris,” I’d always associated the Transylvanian-born photographer with images of Paris outcasts—men and women (and some people of indeterminate gender) who haunted the dark corners of underground bars, saddled with the weight of their own melancholy. This exhibit—the first full retrospective of Brassai’s work—includes many of those celebrated images, but it also provides some unexpected offerings. (Shop Window, Paris is pictured.) Indeed, the show illustrates why Brassai arguably stands at a turning point of photographic history, echoing the works of his predecessors and presaging those of his successors. Like Eugne Atget, Brassai photographed (now-lost) Paris landmarks during daylight; like Paul Strand, he schemed to capture human sitters unawares; like Nadar, he took pains to photograph cities from above. (Brassai’s sprawling, billowy 1946 image Chartres Cathedral in Winter, France is one of the most remarkable photographs I’ve ever seen.) Like Andre Kertesz, Brassai was mesmerized by vertiginous stairways; like Edward Weston, he liked shooting extreme close-ups of simple, inanimate objects; like Aaron Siskind, he painstakingly documented urban graffiti that almost anyone else would have overlooked. Throw in a style of portraiture like that of Arnold Newman and a freak-attractor vibe shared with Diane Arbus, and suddenly you have, in one man, a decent introduction to all the major themes of 20th-century photography. On view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, to Sunday, Jan. 16, 2000, at the National Gallery of Art’s West Building, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Louis Jacobson)