30 Brassai Quotes on Capturing Everyday Life

Looking for the best Brassai quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place. Brassai is best known for his enigmatic images of everyday Parisian life between the interwar period and his pioneering night-time photography work.

Below we have listed 30 of the best quotes from the man who was nicknamed, “The Eyes of Paris” by Henry Miller, to inspire, motivate and help take your photography to the next level.

Brassai Quotes

The thing that is magnificent about photography is that it can produce images that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone.

In photography you can never express yourself directly, only through optics, the physical and chemical process.

To me photography must suggest, not insist or explain.

I don’t invent anything. I imagine everything… most of the time, I have drawn my images from the daily life around me. I think that it is by capturing reality in the humblest, most sincere, most everyday way I can, that I can penetrate to the extraordinary.

Basically, my work has been one long reportage on human life.

There are two gifts which every man of images needs to be a true creator: a certain sensitivity to life, to living things, and at the same time, the art which will enable him to capture that life in a certain specific way. I’m not talking about a pure aesthetics…

André Kertész has two qualities that are essential for a great photographer: an insatiable curiosity about the world, about people, and about life, and a precise sense of form.

My ambition has always been to show the everyday city as if we were discovering it for the first time.

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Brassai on Subjects

We should try, without creasing to tear ourselves constantly by leaving our subjects and even photography itself from time to time, in order that we may come back to them with reawakened zest, with the virginal eye. That is the most precious thing we can possess.

I like living beings; I like life, but I like to capture it in such a way that the photo does not move. I don’t really like the snapshot, the Leica with its 39 views, all of which distract attention.

As a photographer, I never restricted myself to a particular subject. I photographed whatever happened to catch my attention: faces, street scenes, landscapes, or any one of the thousands of chance events of everyday life. Art and artists were a part of my own day-to-day life in Paris.

My images were surreal simply in the sense that my vision brought out the fantastic dimension of reality. My only aim was to express reality, for there is nothing more surreal than reality itself. If reality fails to fill us with wonder, it is because we have fallen into the habit of seeing it as ordinary.

In the absence of a subject with which you are passionately involved, and without the excitement that drives you to grasp it and exhaust it, you may take some beautiful pictures, but not a photographic oeuvre.

I need the subject to be as conscious as possible that he is taking part in an event… in an artistic act. I need his active collaboration.

The precise instant of creation is when you choose the subject. (meaning that the essential thing occurs at the moment when he, the photographer, meets the reality he wishes to capture.

Brassaï, Morris column
A Morris column in the fog, Avenue de l’Observatoire, 1934 © Brassai Estate

Quotes about Art and Photography

I have always refused to specialise. I’ve always done many different kinds of things: photos, drawings, sculpture, films, books … In the end, it is hard to have many different talents, because each one wants to monopolise you … All you can do is try to alternate between them, following your instincts … I’m not afraid that I might be wasting my energy … I want to be free.

I’ve always hated specialisation. That’s why I’ve constantly changed the medium in which I express myself… That way I can breathe, I can see things anew.

Do you know what Picasso said when he looked at my drawings in 1939? “You’re crazy, Brassai. You have a gold mine and you spend your time exploiting a salt mine!” The salt mine was – naturally – photography!

Only photography could provide the intensity and expressive power…

The purpose of art is to raise people to a higher level of awareness than they would otherwise attain on their own.

I wanted to paint. But life in Paris was so interesting, that I couldn’t bear to lock myself away and get on with my artwork… I was much more interested in everything which I saw at night. Those images haunted me…

Brassaï, Pont Neuf
Pont Neuf, Paris, 1934 © Brassai Estate

Brassai Quotes for Better Photography

There are many photographs which are full of life but which are confusing and difficult to remember. It is the force of an image which matter.

To keep from going stale you must forget your professional outlook and rediscover the virginal eye of the amateur.

After twenty years you can begin to be sure of what camera will do.

In any case, I always took people by surprise, for they never knew at what exact moment I was going to take the shot… In addition, given the kind of equipment available at that time, I often needed artificial light: so I would have someone to help me who would be holding a magnesium flare. As a result, no one knew when I was going to press the shutter.

I’ve always felt that the formal structure of a photo, its composition, was just as important as the subject itself… You have to eliminate every superfluous element, you have to guide your own gaze with an iron will.

If you take your inspiration from nature, you don’t invent anything, because what you want to do is to interpret something. But still, everything passes through your imagination. What you produce at the end is very different from the reality you started with.

Photography in our time leaves us with a grave responsibility. While we are playing in our studios with broken flowerpots, oranges, nude studies and still lifes, one day we know that we will be brought to account: life is passing before our eyes without our ever having seen a thing.

A negative doesn’t mean anything for a photographer of my type. It’s the printing by its creator alone that matters. On his stipulation that none of his photographs be printed posthumously

Chance is always there. We all use it. The difference is a poor photographer meets chance one out of a hundred times and a good photographer meets chance all the time.

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What’s your Favorite Brassai Quote?

Have a favorite Brassai quote from the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Don’t forget to bookmark this page, or print it out, and refer to it next time you need some inspiration. If you’ve found the article helpful, then we would be grateful if you could share it with other photographers.

To learn more about Brassai’s photography, check his profile and photos on the Museum of Modern Art website.

Looking for more words of wisdom from master photographers? Check out the quotes section of Photogpedia for more great photography quotes.

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Founder of Photogpedia.com. Photography enthusiast, occasional filmmaker, part-time writer and full-time dreamer. Rediscovered photography in 2012 and have been trying to level up my photography skills since (I'm getting there) #chasingthecreative

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