Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alexey Brodovitch

Alexey Brodovitch is a Russian immigrant who brought modern European influences to America, which helped change the way we view magazine spreads today. Brodovitch is well known for the invention of the famous photographic double-page spread, taking over as art director at Harper’s Bazaar, and producing a book entitled Ballet. Regardless of his still highly acclaimed achievements, Alexey Brodovitch also has his share of flaws as well.
Due to his combination of experimentation and the double-page spread technique Brodovitch was able to create his own original magazine layouts. Brodovitch used three primary elements when creating his magazine spreads: photo, text, and white space. Brodovitch was a big supporter of using white space and was one of the first to take full advantage of it. He did this by not cramming pages in the magazine with images, texts, and advertisements. He said himself that, “many designers are afraid of blank spaces; they cram the page with image and text and hide it with shading colored backgrounds” (Bauret). Brodovitch has set a higher standard for the way future art directors design magazine spread layouts.
Many of Brodovitch’s spreads appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, a beauty and fashion magazine. Harper’s Bazaar began as a small company in 1867 that declined until 1913 when William Randolph Hearst bought and took over the company (Bauret). Harper’s Bazaar did not get its big break until 1933 when Carmel Snow became editor-in-chief. Snow began to hire famous photographers and designers such as Richard Avedon, Martin Munckasci, and Alexey Brodovitch himself. According to Robin Muir, a writer and photographer had mentioned that the magazine achieved prominence during 1933 through 1958, when Alexey Brodovitch became the art director of Harper’s Bazaar. Muir said, “He went on to modernize the magazine’s graphics and bring photography to the fore.” While Brodovitch worked at Harper’s Bazaar he immensely influenced many photographers. In particular, Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Hiro, and Richard Avedon are among those whose careers he helped further. Irving Penn a photographer who worked closely with Brodovitch said, “All designers, all photographers, all art directors whether they know it or not are students of Alexey Brodovitch” (Remington). Brodovitch worked closely with these photographers and combined their elegant photos with his skill in cropping and positioning the pictures along his magazine spreads.


Beauties of Our Time and Cracking Up are noteworthy double-page spreads that are considered to be great examples of a timeless and undying magazine layout. Beauties of Our Time appeared in the April, 1954 issue of Harper’s Bazaar in pages 104-105. Richard Avedon, who worked very closely with Brodovitch during their careers at Harper’s Bazaar, photographed the portrait of Marella Agnelli on the left side of the spread. Avedon provided the astonishing photos to Brodovitch who then would create layouts with them. Within the Beauties of Our Time article the text and the image relation in this spread mirror one another. Marella Agnelli’s body is positioned to the side while her face is looking directly to the reader. The first paragraph on the right mimics the image of Marella Agnelli’s head on the left. However the second paragraph represents Agnelli’s body position. The white space in between or the middle vertical line serves as the axis of the composition of the whole image. Brodovitch is highly regarded by many designers for his effective use of white space in Beauties of Our Time and many other spreads.


Cracking Up is another spread by Brodovitch, which appeared on pages 98-99 in Harper’s Bazaar on March 1, 1938. The portrait of the woman’s face was taken by Leslie Gill who, like Avedon, worked on several magazine spreads with Brodovitch. The seamless and clear picture of the woman’s face on the left is mirrored and flipped onto the right side of the spread. On the right, the portrait was cropped drastically to accentuate the symmetrical effect of the spread (Bauret). Furthermore, there are cracks all over the portrait on the right due to his cropping. Even though they are both the same pictures on each side, the one on the right appears to be far more dramatic. Lastly, the text under the image provides a good balance with the images because they are not too overwhelming. For example, Remington & Hodik wrote, “He strove to master the integration of text and photography, maintaining the essence of the content with an economy of visual means.” This experimental piece was one of the few early spreads that exerted a great influence on other magazines of the time, like Life and Look. Like many of Brodovitch’s works, Cracking Up helped change the way some art directors viewed text and image relations among magazine layouts.


Brodovitch produced the Ballet book in 1945 and it was composed of his own photographs of the Ballet Russe, taken during the years 1935 to 1939. Through these images, Brodovitch tried to express motion and speed. His goal was to try to capture the fantasy and the movement of ballet, which itself deals with imagery and music. He often shot images backstage to use the full effect of the footlights and spotlights to create a dreamy atmosphere. Brodovitch’s images were based on a simple idea, which was to take photographs of moving subjects with a slow shutter speed to capture the subjects in a blur, “This new technique inaugurated the blurred-action photography that characterized the mid-sixties” (Remington).
On the other hand, even though Brodovitch is a highly regarded designer there are some aspects that should not be overlooked. Many consider his photographs and texts to be elegant and beautiful work of art; however, some may argue differently. For instance, the photographs in the Ballet book during the 1940’s were very controversial. Many professional photographers reacted negatively to the frequent use of out-of-focus effects also known as blurred-action photography. During this time, the prevailing custom of making photographs of moving subjects was to capture them with a fast shutter speed allowing the subjects to show up in crisp detail. However, Brodovitch instead shot his photos in a slow shutter speed purposely capturing the subjects in a blurry motion. At first many believed that these photos were quite amateurish and did not regard them very highly like some of his other works. In fact, he was not very successful with this style at the beginning and had taken him countless hours and trials in the darkroom just to get one image to be acceptable (Remington).
There is also the issue that the articles that Brodovitch had to work with. Some say that the contents of the text which, accompany his images in his double-page spreads are not worthy to be on the page. Even though Brodovitch may not have written the articles himself, a few of the articles would be considered outrageous by many readers today. For instance, when comparing the article on Cracking Up to the Cosmetic ads we see today, it is more vulgar and might be offensive towards some readers in today’s society. Instead of suggesting or implying the need of facial improvement the article states that no one is perfect and demands that the reader buys the facial oil to improve themselves regardless of what the reader may think of themselves. The following is directly quoted from the article, “Your skin cannot crack if it is well oiled. What is this strange sense of arrogance that allows you to slide through the twenties and thirties, with your eyes shut, your mind shut, believing that treatments and creams may be fine for some, but the humble path to cleanliness are enough for you? Or is it that you are lazy?” (Bauret). After reading the article and not just focusing on the beauty of Brodovitch’s layout it is not difficult to imagine whom the article was aimed towards. This article was published during the early to mid-twentieth century, the beginning of the flapper era and the great depression; and cosmetics began to flourish and became more profitable than ever before in history. According to Arden Mellor the author of the article History of Cosmetics, the popularity of cosmetics skyrocketed during the early twentieth century. Mellor said, “Cosmetics are products to sell, even when there’s a recession. Women will always find the money for their makeup.” Perhaps this is why many fashion and beauty magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar published articles that would on some levels try to persuade women into buying make-up. And maybe this is why Brodovitch had to work with articles that lacked content and were stuck with articles that promote selling products and making profits.
After I researched the good and the bad works that were done by Alexey Brodovitch I tried to use some of his influences in my menu project. In order to capture some of Alexey Brodovitch’s style, I decided to lay it out like a double-page spread. Even though I was not as successful as Brodovitch was with utilizing white space effectively, I still intentionally left an abundant amount of white space along the spread to mimic his style. I now realize that the white space has worked against me rather than for me because the image and the text appear to be floating in the air. Furthermore, Brodovitch was keen on using elegant photographs, and that is why I tried to take several images of desirable sandwiches and bread to imitate his style. I also changed the Subway restaurant’s logo by making it less vibrant and less cluttered. Lastly, I skewed the text and adjusted the kerning to make each text box mirror the images.
Alexey Brodovitch has influenced many people such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Hiro and myself. Brodovitch is well known today for the invention of the double-page spread, help elevating the status of Harper’s Bazaar and producing the controversial collection of blurry images also known as Ballet. It is clear that even though he was a highly regarded designer, he like many other talents could always use some improvement.


Works Cited

Bauret, Gabriel. Alexey Brodovitch. Paris: Assouline, 1998.
Fitchett, Joseph. "Stylish Glossies with a Russian Accent." International Herald Tribune 13 Jan. 1999. Lexis Nexis. University of Texas Libraries, Austin. 28 Mar. 2008. Keyword: Alexey Brodovitch.
Muir, Robin. "'Astonish Me!'" The Independent 25 Mar. 2000, sec. Features: 1+. Lexis Nexis. University of Texas Libraries, Austin. 28 Mar. 2008. Keyword: Alexey Brodovitch.
Mellor, Arden. "The History of Cosmetics-a Vanity Fair." The-History-of.Net. 13 Aug. 2004. 1 Apr. 2008 http://www.thehistoryof.net/the-history-of-cosmetics.html.
Remington, R. Roger, and Barbara J. Hodik. Nine Pioneers in American Graphic Design. Cambridge: The MIT P, 1989. 28-53.

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