Alexey Brodovitch by Kerry William Purcell ★★★★
Born in Russia in 1898 to an aristocratic and wealthy family, Alexey Brodovitch fled to Paris in 1920 as an exile, where he found himself in a community of russian artists. He was hired as a painter of stage sets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which in turn inspired him to work as a commercial artist. In 1930, Brodovitch moved to Philadelphia to take on a teaching position in advertising design at the Philadelphia college of Art. There he started the Design Laboratory, an experimental workshop for some of his more advanced students. Among the photographers who attended his classes were Diane Arbus, Eve Arnold, Richard Avedon, Lisette Model, and Garry Winogrand. Photographer Ralph Steiner who worked for Harper’s Bazaar (which was owned by William Randolph Hearst) introduced him to Carmel Snow, editor-in-chief of the magazine. Snow is credited with saying: “I saw a fresh, new conception of layout technique that struck me like a revelation: pages that “bled” beautifully cropped photographs, typography and design that were bold and arresting. Within ten minutes I had asked Brodovitch to have cocktails with me, and that evening I signed him to a provisional contract as art director.” During his 24-year reign from 1934 to 1958, Brodovitch created a unique look for Bazaar using avant-garde photography, typography and illustration. He was helped by old friends like Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Raoul Dufy, Marc Chagall and A.M. Cassandre. One of his regular contributors was former student Richard Avedon, who became an iconic photographer in his own right (his obituary in The New York Times following his death in 2004 stated that, “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.”)
Among Brodovitch’s countless innovations were the integration of image and text, cropping of photographs, use of white space, and the creation of dynamic double-page spreads, things every designer and reader takes for granted today. In fact, so many of Brodovitch’s ideas became part of the design vernacular, that looking at this book—which gives a brief biography of the iconic art director followed by examples of his page layouts and covers—I had to think back to my own design student days, when I was hit full force by the freshness of his ideas given their historical context and looked to such material as a frequent source of inspiration. The reproduction quality leaves something to be desired, but then, printing standards were not what they are today and the layouts look exactly like the historical documents they have become in the 21st century.